The Oregon Public Health Division’s (OPHD) Foodborne Illness Prevention Program announced that it is moving forward with the adoption of the 2009 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code. The new rules will take effect on September 4, 2012. Oddly, however, the agency noted that it would not be adopting the “No Bare Hand Contact” section of the Food Code.
In creating the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule for food handlers, the FDA pointed out that when hands are heavily contaminated, even effective handwashing practices may not be enough to prevent the transmission of pathogens from the hands to ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, such as sandwiches, salads, and other foods that are eaten without further washing or cooking. Accordingly, the rule requires the use of “suitable utensils such as scoops, spoons, forks, spatulas, tongs, deli tissue, single-use gloves, or dispensing equipment” when handling RTE food items to reduce foodborne illness.
Discussion of implementing the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule in Oregon was met with fierce opposition by restaurateurs who raised concerns over the cost of complying with the rule and whether it would actually increase food safety. In response, OPHD explained that over the next few months it will assemble a workgroup of interested parties (restaurateurs, government inspectors, consumers, etc.) to review and provide recommendations on addressing norovirus and fecal contamination of food, and to identify the best options to reduce illness.
Oregon’s process of adopting the 2009 FDA Food Code began in August 2010 when a Food Code Review Workgroup was established to work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, food service and retail industry groups and regulators to develop recommendations regarding the new rules. Earlier this year, OPHD also provided training for regulators and industry on the 2009 Food Code in preparation for the September effective date.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), under contract to the FDA, has been gathering data on the progress of FDA Food Code adoptions by States, Territories, Local and Tribal Nation agencies. AFDO reported that 49 of the 50 States adopted codes patterned after the 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, or 2009 versions of the Food Code, representing 96% of the U.S. population. Specifically:
- Four States adopted the 1993, 1995 or 1997 Food Code, representing 4% of the US population.
- Ten States adopted the 1999 Food Code, representing 13%of the US population.
- Eleven States adopted the 2001 Food Code, representing 38% of the US population.
- Twenty one States adopted the 2005 Food Code, representing 39%of the US population.
- Three States adopted the 2009 Food Code, representing2% of the US population.
In September, Oregon will join Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Delaware in adopting the 2009 version of the food code. Until the final rules take effect, food industry members can review the Fact Sheets provided by OPHD to ensure compliance and see what other changes may affect their business in the coming weeks.
In its latest step to increase the safety of the American food supply, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a Retail Food Safety Action Plan that includes several measures to help assure the safety of food sold in stores, restaurants, schools, and other foodservice operations. In support of the Action Plan, FDA also unveiled a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials . FDA and the Association will promote the use of best practices by local authorities and attempt to increase retail food safety oversight as well as encourage the implementation of FDA’s Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards for retail food programs.
FDA today also released a Supplement to the 2009 FDA Food Code. The Food Code contains model food-safety regulations for retail and food-service operations including restaurants, schools and food stores. Local, authorities use the Food Code to develop food safety rules consistent with national regulatory policy.
Key changes contained in the new Supplement include:
- Requiring that food establishments have a certified food protection manager with the following additional requirements:
- that all operating procedures required by the Food Code are developed and implemented;
- that it can be verified that all employees are informed about their obligation to report certain health conditions that relate to transmission of food borne illness; and
- that any food the establishment receives after operating hours is delivered in a manner that does not create a food safety hazard;
- Requiring that food establishments have a plan for responding to and properly cleaning-up after an employee or other becomes physically ill in areas where food may be prepared, stored or served;
- Clarifying appropriate exceptions to the prohibition of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods prepared in the establishment;
- Clarifying the requirements for the safe storage and display of ground and whole-muscle meat and poultry;
- New requirements for devices used to generate chemical sanitizers on- site in the food establishment;
- Establishing clearer guidelines for the amount time a food establishment should be given to correct violations of different types of provisions in the Food Code.
Following the playbook it has followed in the past with sodium and other issues, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed yet another complaint of very questionable legal merit to promote a policy agenda. This time CSPI seeks to compel all retailers to use loyalty cards as a recall alert system.
Some retailers use their loyalty card systems to alert customers of product recalls. Other retailers do not. Retailers who don't use loyalty cards as a recall alert system may have a variety of legitimate reasons why they don't or can't create the technology that CSPI wants a court to order retailers to implement. For example, some may lack the technological ability, have privacy agreements with customers that do not allow loyalty cards to be used as a recall alert system, or have other legitimate privacy concerns.
Like CSPI's sodium litigation, this complaint has serious flaws. It seeks broad certification of a "nationwide class" of customers who bought recalled products and whom the retailer "did not advise that they had bought Recalled Products." Even supposing that the claims had some legal merit, few "common issues of fact and law" are apparent. State law varies on the type of consumer fraud claims asserted. Some putative class members surely did get notice of the recall (through means other than loyalty cards).
On the merits, the claims are problematic because we suspect that many (and perhaps most) jurisdictions do not recognize a retailer’s affirmative duty to create some technology to alert customers of manufacturers’ recalls. The complaint utterly fails to acknowledge that retailers employ mechanisms other than loyalty cards to assure customers are aware of recalls.
On its face, a claim for breach of the warranty of merchantability is completely incongruent with a request that the court order retailers to employ new technologies. And, a loyalty card is not a good subject to the warranty of merchantability.
What might be most shameful about CSPI's complaint is its conflict with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which CSPI purports to support. Section 211 of the FSMA modifies the Reportable Food Registry to enhance consumer notification of Class I recalls by grocery stores. FDA is tasked to, "[n]ot more than 1 year after the date of enactment of the [FSMA,] . . . develop and publish a list of acceptable conspicuous locations and manners" for grocery stores to notify customers of Class I recalls. CSPI (as well as anyone else) will have the opportunity to submit comments to FDA as part of the rule-making process.
Even if CSPI were somehow successful in its litigation, the outcome of the litigation may be supplanted or even in direct conflict with the FDA's rulemaking and the FSMA. Litigation is rarely a productive, efficient or useful way to create industry regulation. Litigation in the wake of legislation creating the actual policy that CSPI seeks to promote seems utterly wasteful and counterproductive.