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FDA Revises Food Code
Undercooked proteins and leafy greens are main points of change for restaurants under 2009 code. By Jordan Melnick
Leafy greens need to be stored in a controlled temperature to ward off bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration has released its updated 2009 Food Code containing several recommendations that could impact the way restaurants operate.

The Food Code, released every four years, serves as a model code and reference document for regulating the retail and foodservice segments of the food industry. While state and local governments do not have to follow the Food Code to the letter, many use it as a guide and some adopt it in toto.

The new recommendations include time and temperature control for cut leafy greens; no longer serving undercooked hamburgers and other ground meats on a children’s menu, even upon request; and curbing noncontinuous cooking of foods comprised of raw animal products.

The leafy-greens provision followed 24 multistate bacteria outbreaks between 1998 and 2008.

“Based on research that we had at our disposal, the evidence was clear that cut leafy greens can in fact support the growth of pathogens if not held under temperature control,” says Kevin Smith, a food-safety expert at the FDA.

The leafy greens provision is “really important” because fresh produce is so susceptible to bacteria, says Sandra Eskin, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Food Safety Campaign.

“Fresh produce is challenging because, unlike other foods, you don’t have a ‘kill step’—you don’t cook it,” Eskin says. “If you have one leaf or a few leaves that are contaminated and then you mix it with others, you’ve basically contaminated everything.”

Eskin says temperature control can mitigate the risk: “If you keep it cold, you will inhibit multiplication of any bacteria that are in there.”

Several of the Food Code’s new recommendations focus on what Eskin calls “temperature abuse.”

“You heat things, you cool things, you heat things, you cool things,” she says, referring to the recommendation regarding noncontinuous cooking. “The concern there is you’re providing opportunities for bacteria to grow and multiply by not keeping the food at a steady temperature.”

The recommendation against serving undercooked meat on children’s menus recognizes children’s greater susceptibility to food-borne illnesses like E. coli.

The Food Code, released every four years, serves as a model code and reference document for regulating the retail and foodservice segments of the food industry.

The new Food Code is “a key component of [President Obama’s] overall public health-focused food safety framework for maintaining a safe food supply,” according to an FDA press release.

Another development in federal food policy came Wednesday when the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The bill, similar to a House bill passed in July, would empower the FDA to order mandatory recalls of tainted food products, among other provisions. Recall compliance is currently voluntary.

The move indicates a fundamental change in federal food-safety policy, Eskin says.

“Given the type of food-safety concerns you have, like bacterial contamination which you can’t see or smell or touch, we need to take a different approach,” she says. “So there’s a paradigm shift from reaction to prevention.”

With the battle over health-care legislation still raging, it is unclear when the full Senate will take up the food-safety bill.

Jordan Melnick is QSR's online exclusives reporter.