Laurie Williams, a food safety specialist in the Food Science Department at Penn State University, University Park, PA, who develops and delivers training for extension educators, noted that the changes bring the state's laws up to the standards long recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Williams also told ID Access that distributor sales reps, who wish to provide enhanced services to their customers, should bone up on the new code.
"If someone is handling potentially hazardous food, then the new code pertains to them," Williams said. "The code is more specific in what food handlers have to do to keep food safe."
Williams explained that since regulations are based on science, the state code needs to be periodically amended to keep up with changing food science knowledge. "We produce so much food in Pennsylvania that it's important for food safety to be at the front of mind," she added.
The state code is now patterned after the 2001 FDA Food Code and the 2003 supplement. Williams further indicated that while the United States does not have a national food law, the FDA strongly recommends these guidelines and states are adopting them.
Jorge Hernandez, vice president of food safety and risk management, National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Chicago, concurred that the changes in the Pennsylvania Code will bring the state's food safety laws up to the FDA Food Code Standards "and that is significant."
"This is an example of a system in which the FDA sets the national standards based on the latest science and each state adopts it," Hernandez noted.
Hernandez believes that awareness of these codes is important because foodservice industry representatives, regulator officials, academics and consumer groups should discuss them and pass recommendations to the FDA. "Once these solutions are in the FDA Code, each state then looks to adopt them in their laws thereby creating a safer way of doing business," he observed.
The new code gives industry more detailed guidelines by specifying safe holding temperatures and more explicit requirements for food preparation, storage and handling. For consumers, the most visible change will be the consumer advisory that food establishments are now required to display when serving any raw or undercooked foods. Williams said such foods pose an elevated risk to young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
"For example, when Caesar salad is made with raw eggs, there's a risk of Salmonella," Williams said. "Things that are typically raw or undercooked must be identified by a sign, an asterisk on a menu or a brochure on the supermarket's prepared-food counter."
Other major changes that the code is introducing include:
Revised hot and cold holding temperatures. The upper limit for holding hot foods for extended periods was reduced to 135 degrees from 140. The cold holding temperature was reduced from 45 degrees to 41 degrees.
Required food personnel supervisor. A designated supervisor must be on-site whenever the facility is in operation.
Foodservice employee health monitoring. Food handlers are required to report any illness of Hepatitis A, E. coli: 01757, Salmonella Typhi and Shigellosis to their supervisors when diagnosed. "If they're sick with gastrointestinal illness, diarrhea, fever or a sore throat, they have to report that, also," Williams says.
Prohibition on bare-handed food handling. All bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food is completely prohibited.