FDA plan aims to improve food safety at retail outlets

Sep 30, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a "Retail Food Safety Action Plan" aiming to improve how food facilities manage their food safety efforts and how public health agencies oversee them.

The plan calls for strengthening state and local food safety requirements for retail facilities and improving training for their workers, the FDA said in an e-mail statement yesterday.

To support the plan, the agency announced an agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The agreement calls for the FDA and NACCHO to "promote the use of best practices by local authorities and develop tools to strengthen retail food safety oversight and implement FDA's Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards" for regulatory agencies.

The FDA also said it is releasing a supplement to the 2009 FDA Food Code with a recommendation that all retail food establishments have at least one certified food protection manager to ensure compliance with safety standards.

The Food Code is a set of model food safety regulations for keeping food safe at retail operations, including restaurants, schools, and food stores, the FDA noted. The code is not legally binding, but local, state, and tribal authorities use it to develop or update their own food safety rules.

Some states and localities already require retail food businesses to use certified food safety managers, and many businesses hire them voluntarily, FDA officials said a year ago. At that time the agency reported the results of a 10-year survey showing that having such personnel made a difference.

Craig Hedberg, PhD, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, welcomed the FDA announcement. "The presence of a certified kitchen manager has been shown to reduce the likelihood of an establishment being associated with an outbreak of foodborne illness," he commented by e-mail.

But he noted that enforceable rules will have to be set by states and localities. "Thus, while this represents an important step forward, the real impact will require the follow-up actions of many different agencies over the coming months and years," he said.

Hedberg said certified food safety managers are probably more common in restaurants than in other types of retail food operations, but not all jurisdictions require them even in restaurants.

The FDA said the new Food Code supplement includes several other items. For example, it:

  • Advises that food facilities should have a plan for responding to and cleaning up after an employee or other person gets sick in an area where food may be prepared, stored, or served
  • Clarifies appropriate exceptions to a prohibition on bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods prepared on site
  • Establishes clearer guidelines for how much time a food establishment should have to correct violations of food safety standards

See also:

Oct 22, 2010, CIDRAP News story "FDA sets sights on retail food safety improvements"

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