F.D.A. announces retail food safety action plan

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 29 announced a Retail Food Safety Action Plan that includes measures to help ensure the safety of food sold in retail outlets, restaurants, schools, and other food service operations in the United States. The F.D.A. said the plan seeks to improve the way managers of the operations conduct food safety operations in their facilities, as well as improve the oversight of these establishments by public health agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

In support of the action plan, the F.D.A. announced the issuance of a supplement to the 2009 F.D.A. Food Code and the establishment of a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) that will promote the use of best practices by local authorities and develop tools to strengthen retail food safety oversight.

The retail food safety plan outlined four action areas: making the presence of certified food protection managers a common practice; strengthening managerial con-trol of food safety at the retail level with the aim of enhancing compliance with regulations and standards as well as promoting the identification and dissemination of best practices; encouraging widespread, uni-form and complete adoption of the F.D.A. Food Code, and creating an enhanced local regulatory environment for retail food operations.

The F.D.A. said having a certified food protection manager on site in a retail establishment has a positive impact on food safety and should become an industry practice. The agency said it would work with its partners at all levels of government as well as with the retail food industry to develop training and certification programs for food protection managers.

The F.D.A. said it also will work with its partners to encourage and facilitate the development of training for food handlers that addresses the challenges of providing guidance for a workforce with a high turnover rate and with various educational and cultural backgrounds.

The plan will promote wider implementation by state and local regulatory programs of the F.D.A. Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Programs Standards and ensure widespread participation by local regulators in F.D.A. training courses.

The F.D.A. plan emphasized the importance of all parties adopting the F.D.A. Food Code, which is a set of model food safety regulations for keeping food safe at retail and food service operations. Local, state and tribal authorities use the code to develop or update their own food safety rules to be consistent with national food regulatory policy.

From 1993 through 2001, the complete Food Code was issued every two years. The F.D.A. currently issues a new Food Code every four years. The next complete revision of the Food Code will be published in 2013.

Until that time, the supplement issued on Sept. 29 incorporates into the Food Code several changes with which there is substantial agreement among the federal agencies and other stakeholders.

The supplement includes the recommendation given high priority in the action plan that retail food establishments employ at least one certified food protection manager at each facility to ensure adherence to safe practices and standards within the establishment.

Other key changes to the 2009 Food Code recommendations contained in the supplement include the requirement food establishments have a plan for responding to and properly cleaning up after an employee or other individual becomes physically ill in areas where food may be prepared, stored or served.

The supplement clarifies appropriate exceptions to the prohibition of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods prepared in the establishment and clarifies the requirements for the safe storage and display of ground and whole-muscle meat and poultry. It also outlines new requirements for devices used to generate chemical sanitizers in the food establishment and establishes clearer guidelines for the amount of time a food establishment should be given to correct violations of different types of provisions in the Food Code.

The F.D.A. said members of its national retail food team, including officials from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and retail food specialists located in regional offices around the country, would be available to assist regulatory officials, educators, and the industry in their efforts to adopt, implement, and understand the provisions of the F.D.A. Food Code and its recent supplement.

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