Here’s what you need to know
Americans eat out on average five times a week according to the National Restaurant Association. There isn’t necessarily a correlation between eating out and getting sick; however, a report in 2014 analyzed 10 years of data from the CDC and concluded that people are twice as likely to become sick from eating out. The reality is that 48 million of us, that’s 1 in 6, experience a food borne illnesses every year according to the CDC. Most of the time we power through a pretty miserable day or two near the toilet and then go about our lives. 3,000 people a year are not so lucky. As growing pressures mount to make our food safer after countless outbreaks (anyone want to eat romaine lettuce from Arizona right now?), the State of Colorado in late 2017 adopted the 2013 FDA Food Code to supplement the current regulations for retail food establishments.
No restaurant owner I know wants anyone to get sick. In fact, it is just the opposite – they want to share the food they love with their community. The challenge is that a food business is operating with two potentially unstable pieces – food with a limited shelf life being made by human beings who get sick and then don’t make the best choices. An outbreak can have serious consequences for a restaurant, from the guilt and remorse, to regaining public trust and financial implications. A study released just last month by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – foodborne illness outbreak concluded that the costs associated with an illness far outpace the preventative measures an establishment could implement. A single foodborne illness outbreak can severely affect an establishment’s bottom line from several thousand dollars to millions of dollars. “Many prevention measures can be simple,” said Sarah M. Bartsch, lead author of the study, “like implementing adequate food safety staff training for all restaurant employees and applying sufficient sick leave policies.”
So, now that you are thoroughly terrified, this post is for you if:
You own or manage a restaurant or value-added food business that you sell directly to the public through a storefront (not wholesale and not cottage food)
You are interested in food safety because it is kind of amazing we aren’t sick all the time for the food we eat, both in and out of our own kitchen
Let’s get to the good stuff.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has adopted the 2013 FDA Food Code. The Food Code will replace Colorado’s current regulations and will be effective in January 1, 2019. The change will affect restaurants, food trucks, caterers, delis, cafeterias in grocery stores and other retail food establishments; anyone who operates under a Retail Food Establishment License through your county. The changes DO NOT affect wholesale manufacturers who only hold a license through the state and/or sell directly to the public at farmers markets or online under this license or operate under the Cottage Food Act.
Numerous sections of the FDA Food Code are already incorporated in Colorado’s current food safety regulations so establishments should not see a great deal of new requirements. However, there are several changes, one in particular, that could have a big impact on scheduling, labor costs and expenses.
Once an establishment is approved by their counties’ health department and receives a license, they are left to hopefully follow the policies and procedures established with an annual restaurant inspection to verify compliance. Most restaurants do a great job and take this responsibility very seriously. Some have not taken great care or have just been unlucky. Take the most recent large Salmonella outbreak in Weld County. In February of 2018, 37 cases were confirmed after Burrito Delight catered two large UNC events. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but the restaurant was shut down for several weeks. Then there is the PR nightmare to deal with to regain trust; would you eat at their restaurant?
Many restaurants require employees to go through a food safety certification course or offer some kind of training to prevent illness. While this is a great step, the state has decided to implement a bigger food safety program to help control the spread of foodborne illnesses. Establishments will be required to have at least one employee who holds a Food Protection Manager Certification or CFPM. This person must be in a supervisory role and have management responsibilities. In other words – they must be able to implement new processes laid out by the training and have the authority to reprimand employees if they aren’t followed. They will also be responsible for frequent food safety education and trainings for current and new employees.
Interestingly, establishments with multiple locations owned by the same entity in Colorado are able to certify just one food protection manager as long as he or she is able to travel from location to location. For really small businesses, this will put the majority of responsibility on the owner, who is also most likely the manager. The Larimer Health Department did say that they expect that over the next few years the regulation will mandate one CFPM per shift so that there is always someone there to oversee the processes.
Depending on your level of confidence, or of that in your employee, fulfilling the CFPM obligation ranges in cost from $36 – $200 for just the exam and proctoring to online and in-person trainings. Locally, The Cooking Studio has teamed up with The Larimer County Workforce Development Center to offer a three-day training with CFPM review, exam proctoring and bonus leadership, conflict resolution and employee retention training. You can find a full list of certifying agencies for Larimer County here.
The other changes to the regulations are much more minor from date marking to new signage and procedures for responding to bodily fluid clean-up. Date marking, only currently required for establishments serving high risk populations, will be soon be required for everyone. Basically, once a ready-to-eat product is made, say a batch of chicken salad, it is good to use and sell for seven days. If you put said salad in the freezer on day three (hopefully you wouldn’t, but if you did), when it is removed from the freezer, that day is day four. Get ready to buy lots of tape or special date marking stickers and sharpies.
My favorite change is that the term “Potentially Hazardous Food” will be replaced with “Time and Temperature Control for Safety Food.” I always disliked the term Potentially Hazardous Food. I mean, my delicious cheese is potentially hazardous…it just doesn’t sound appetizing. Of course, Time and Temperature Control for Safety Food is going to be a real mouthful for your health department inspector to say every time. I am sure it will be replaced with yet another acronym: TTCSF.
When I worked in the Prepared Foods department for Whole Foods Market, I very quickly learned the terms “critical” and “non-critical”. We had monthly inspections conducted by a private company and the fear of receiving a “critical” was real. Departments lost beverage privileges and managers were penalized depending on the offense and number of infractions. Not that it will really help in that scenario, but these terms are being replaced with “priority, priority foundation, and core items.” In most cases priority and priority foundation items are currently called critical items and core item are non-critical items.
Lastly, if you smoke, cure or acidify foods for preservation or use other specialized processing methods, you will need to apply for a variance. This provides flexibility for operators to use preparation methods not specifically prescribed in the food code when approved.
So, ready or not, the new regulations are coming. Take some time this summer to make a plan, get materials ready, determine if you need to apply for a variance, require date marking now, if you don’t already, and consider who your CFPM will be. Sign yourself or this designated person up for a training well in advance of the January deadline. Amanda Johnston with Larimer County Extension is your best option for a certified proctor in Northern Colorado and there is a limit on proctored exam space, so don’t wait until the last minute. The CFPM will be good for five years and becomes a part of your establishments health department record. It does move with the person though, so if your CFPM leaves, you will need to find a replacement quickly.
For more detail on all of these changes, date marking guidelines and links to course and more, visit new retail food regulations for 2019.
Sari Kimbell is the Founder and CEO of Cultivate Consulting, LLC, a food business consulting company in Fort Collins, CO. She works with food and beverage startups and growups in the food industry to realize their success quickly by advising clients in the foundations of a food business (licenses, labels, kitchen, etc.), branding, marketing, sales and financial profitability. Sari is also a food business consultant with the Larimer Small Business Development Center and has helped over 30 food businesses start or scale up to the next level.