The FDA introduced a revised Food Code featuring a number of essential changes at the end of last year. With jurisdiction over more than 25 percent of the U.S. economy, the FDA guarantees that the Food Code remains pertinent to a vast majority of Americans.

The Food Code embodies the FDA’s top recommendations for a consistent framework that deals with food safety and protection in retail and food service environments. That means that the Food Code regulates more than a million food service and retail establishments, vending operations, and food services in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and childcare centers.

In this article, we will delve into the primary alterations in the 2022 Food Code and their implications for businesses in 2023, along with recommended actions.

The implications for food businesses
The Food Code is updated to include the most recent safety practices, adjust to societal shifts, and tackle real-world challenges in food establishments. Adhering to the Food Code strives to:

  1. Diminish the risks of foodborne illnesses, safeguarding customers and businesses from negative health consequences and financial setbacks;
  2. Set uniform benchmarks for retail food safety, simplifying adherence procedures;
  3. Eliminate redundant methods for defining food safety standards; and
  4. Adopt a consistent approach to conducting inspections and audits of food establishments.

For packaged foods, the 2022 FDA Food Code requires that major food allergens, now including sesame, be clearly labeled on the packaging. Manufacturers must list the allergens in the ingredients section or provide a separate allergen statement to inform consumers of the presence of any major allergens. This helps ensure that individuals with allergies can make informed choices when purchasing packaged foods and avoid potential allergens that could cause adverse reactions.

Changes around cooking requirements
Although the FDA continues to grant considerable discretion to food service providers, the revised Food Code introduces two new stipulations. First, commercially packaged food containing cooking instructions from the manufacturer must be prepared following those guidelines. Exceptions are in place if the manufacturer indicates the food can be consumed without cooking. Second, food that has not undergone processing to control pathogens must adhere to suitable time and temperature guidelines when used in ready-to-eat meals or offered for consumption. Restaurants and chefs must make informed decisions regarding these guidelines and apply them uniformly.

Changes to food donations
Approximately one-third of all food in the U.S. goes unconsumed. Sad, but true.

For the first time, the Food Code specifically addresses food donations, which the FDA claims is part of the “Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health,” which targets the elimination of hunger, reduction of diet-related illnesses by 2030, and the decrease of disparities. The 2022 Food Code, in an effort to reduce food waste and safely distribute high-quality food to those in need, clarifies that food adhering to safety provisions in storage, preparation, packaging, display, and labeling can be donated. Restaurants interested in participating should follow all applicable safety guidelines for food storage.

The updated Food Code now allows customers to bring pet dogs into outdoor dining areas where permitted, delighting dog lovers. However, some important aspects must be considered. Firstly, the Food Code doesn’t supersede local and state laws regarding pet dogs in dining areas. If prohibited by law, pet dogs remain disallowed. Secondly, restaurants can still choose to ban pet dogs, provided it doesn’t conflict with legal requirements for reasonable accommodations concerning service or medical assistance dogs. Restaurants should allow dogs if there’s doubt about medical necessity. Lastly, enthusiasts of other pets must wait for the next update, unless required for medical reasons.

The Food Code is a crucial tool for restaurants in forming policies for diverse customers. The points mentioned above offer guidance for incorporating the 2022 Food Code’s updated provisions into restaurant policies and practices.

In light of these changes, businesses should take the following actions:

  1. Update staff training to incorporate new Food Code provisions, with a focus on allergen awareness, cooking requirements, and food donation guidelines.
  2. Review and revise restaurant policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the updated Food Code, especially regarding allergen labeling and pet dog accommodations.
  3. Stay informed about state and local regulations that may impact the implementation of new Food Code provisions in specific locations.

By staying proactive and adapting to the changes in the 2022 FDA Food Code, businesses can continue to prioritize food safety and customer satisfaction in 2023 and beyond.

About the author: Paul Damaren is Executive Vice President, Business Development at RizePoint, a technology a firm specializing in the food safety, quality management, compliance, and social responsibility space. RizePoint’s management software solutions help companies, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Marriott, and more, keep brand promises through their quality, safety, and compliance efforts.