A Guide to the New FDA Food Code

The FDA Food Code and Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a seven step approach to food safety and protecting public health. Wikimedia Commons

On November 13, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Code was released. As each previous code before it, the 2013 edition of the code will serve as the country’s model for safeguarding public health and ensuring food remains unadulterated and honestly presented when offered to the consumer via retail outlets. Ultimately, the FDA Food Code provides all American food control jurisdictions with science-backed technical and legal grounds for regulating food service and food retail from restaurants to grocery stores to food serving institutions like nursing homes and schools.

The FDA releases an updated edition of the code every four years to continually provide the industry with updated advice on best practices and uniform provisions addressing the safety and protection of food offered at retail and food service establishments.

Goals of the FDA Food Code

While the United States Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) led the way to a safer food supply for the United States and has given FDA authoritative power to regulate all aspects of the food industry, the Food Code also provides FDA with additional leverage to combat foodborne illness outbreaks, hospitalizations, and deaths. The primary goals of the each edition of the Food Code include:

  • Reduction of risk of foodborne illnesses within food establishments, thus protecting consumers and industry from potentially devastating health consequences and financial losses.
  • Uniform standards for retail food safety that reduce complexity and better ensure compliance.
  • The elimination of redundant processes for establishing food safety criteria.
  • The establishment of a more standardized approach to inspections and audits of food establishments.

As the food safety system becomes more efficient and uniform, the FDA expects reduced or eliminated foodborne illness catastrophes.

What's New in the 2013 FDA Food Code

Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may publish Food Code Supplements that update, modify, or clarify certain provisions, this 2013 code will serve as the primary model for the next four years. Most important with each new Food Code are the changes they present over the previous editions. The 2013 code offers five significant changes over the previous Food Code:

  • Restaurants and food stores must post signs notifying their customers that inspection information is available for review.
  • Nontyphoidal Salmonella has been added to the list of illnesses that food workers are required to report to their management and that prompts management to exclude or restrict employees from working with food.
  • New requirements that better address emerging trends in food establishments such as the use of reduced oxygen packaging methods and the reuse and refilling of take-home food containers.
  • Revisions to the minimum cooking temperatures associated with procedures such as non-continuous cooking and circumstances under which bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is permitted.
  • Stronger requirements for cleaning and sanitizing equipment used in preparing raw foods that are major food allergens.

    While these updates certainly sound like progress in food safety rules and regulations, the truth is that the Food Code is only as effective as its implementation and enforcement, which is where the Regulatory Program Standards come in.

    What are Regulatory Program Standards?

    To properly administer the Food Code, the FDA collaborates with state, local, and tribal partners as well as industry trade associations, academia, and consumers. The primary goal of such a widespread collaboration is to create a risk-based approach that leverages limited resources. This approach is referred to as the "Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards."

    Per the FDA’s outline, there are nine Retail Program Standards, which are:

    • Regulatory Foundation: Any statute, regulation, rule, ordinance, or other prevailing set of regulatory requirements that govern the operation of a retail food establishment. This provides a science-based regulatory foundation for the public health programs and uniform regulation of industry.
    • Trained Regulatory Staff: Retail food inspectors shall have the knowledge, skills and ability to properly perform their duties. By following a five-step training program, it is expected that trainees will obtain the skills necessary to conduct quality inspections.
    • Inspection Program Based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Principals: Utilizing HACCP principals to target immediate and long-term correction of assessed and recurring risks.
    • Uniform Inspection Program: Following an established quality assurance program to ensure all facets of Retail Program Standards are met with uniformity and consistency.
    • Foodborne Illness and Food Preparedness and Response: A seven-step approach to detect, collect, investigate and respond to complaints and emergencies that involve foodborne illness, injury, and intentional and unintentional food contamination.
    • Compliance and Enforcement: Follow-up actions for out-of-control risk factors and timely correction of code violations. By having a compliance and enforcement program, regulatory requirements can be achieved.
    • Industry and Community Relations: Requires proper exchange of information between regulators, industry and consumer representatives. This standard aims to provide enhanced communication via forums designed to solicit input and improve food safety. Through information, education, and efforts of parties involved, reduction of risk factors can be obtained.
    • Program Support and Resources: By providing funding, staff, and proper equipment to support this program, reduction in risk factors leading to foodborne illness outbreaks can occur.
    • Program Assessment: Measuring a specific program’s standard against national criteria allows it to grow and develop allowing improvement to further enhance food safety.

    When properly administered, the FDA believes the program standards should assist in realizing important food safety objectives like:

    • Promoting wider application of effective risk-factor intervention strategies
    • Assisting in identifying program areas most in need of additional attention
    • Providing information needed to justify maintenance or increase in program budgets
    • Leading to innovations in program implementation and administration
    • Improving industry and consumer confidence in food protection programs by enhancing uniformity within and between regulatory agencies.


    "FDA Food Code." U.S. Food and Drug Administration, August 2015.