State food code undergoes revision

State food code undergoes revision

By Joe Graham, Washington State Department of Health

The Washington State Department of Health, under the direction of the State Board of Health, has updated the state food safety rules. The updated rules are based on the 2009 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code and will take effect May 1, 2013.

Staff from the Department of Health’s Food Safety Program used a workgroup process to discuss proposed changes. The workgroup included representatives from the restaurant industry, local health departments, the grocery industry, the public, and affected state agencies. Josh McDonald, represented WRA on the workgroup. The complete list of workgroup members is located here:

The workgroup discussed all the changes made to the FDA Food Code since the last state food rule revision, as well as changes suggested by the food service industry, the public and local health officials. The workgroup recommended the State Board of Health accept or reject these changes based on the public health reasons for the changes. The workgroup worked tirelessly for 18 months and finalized its list of recommendations in July 2011.

Department of Health staff created a draft rule based on these changes and shared this draft at four public meetings across the state in January and February. The Department of Health amended the draft based on these comments and briefed the State Board of Health at a public meeting on March 14, 2012. A number of businesses expressed concern about the date marking requirements in the draft. In response, the Board of Health requested that the Department of Health reevaluate the public health benefits of the proposed date marking requirements. After in-depth research into the latest science, cost/benefit and food processing practices, the Department of Health removed the date marking requirements from the proposed rule.

The Department of Health presented the final proposed rules to the State Board of Health at a formal public hearing on October 10, 2012. The State Board of Health received testimony from the WRA, the Washington Food Industry Association (representing the grocery industry) and local health jurisdictions. All were in favor of the proposed rules and the State Board of Health adopted them with an effective date of May 1, 2013.

Here are the major changes to the food safety rules. We will include more details about some of these changes in later editions of Washington Restaurant Magazine:

  • Cut leafy greens will become potentially hazardous foods and will be required to be kept at 41°F or below.
  • The definition of cut leafy greens will be “fresh leafy greens whose leaves have been cut, shredded, sliced, chopped or torn.” Leafy greens that have simply had their exterior leaves removed and discarded will not be considered cut leafy greens and can be stored at any temperature.
  • Cut tomatoes will also become potentially hazardous foods and be required to be kept at 41°F or below.
  • There is now a definition of a “conditional employee,” which is a potential food employee to whom a job offer is made.
  • The person in charge will now be required to ask conditional employees if they are experiencing or have recently experienced symptoms of foodborne illness such as diarrhea or vomiting.
  • If the conditional employee is experiencing these symptoms they cannot become a food employee until they meet the health conditions outlined in other parts of the rule.
  • The rule will specify that washing produce means the produce is “thoroughly rinsed under running water”
  • There will be new rules for restaurants that partially cook and then cool food for complete cooking later, which is called “noncontinuous cooking.”
  • There will be new requirements for restaurants that prepare food using cook chill or sous vide methods.
  • The definition of service animal will match the definition in state law, which will mean dogs are the only animal that can be a service animal.

(Originally published in Washington Restaurant Magazine, Winter 2012)

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