The 88th Texas Legislature passed two bills impacting food establishments with Sept. 1 implementation dates. The new laws benefit the 55,000 food service establishments in the Lone Star State that employ more than 1.4 million Texans, plus the communities they serve.

The Texas Restaurant Association said the more streamlined regulations offer cost savings and new opportunities to enhance the customer experience. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) introduction to the new laws says the goal is to prevent foodborne illness in Texas.

“This endeavor requires the help of all public health regions, state and federal agencies, local and city health departments, private industry, and the public,” the state’s introduction says. Through teamwork and diligent effort, we can accomplish our mission:  

“To protect public health through the efficient operation of a comprehensive retail food protection program focusing on education, training, and oversight, which will ultimately reduce the potential for foodborne illness in Texas.” 

“Food safety is serious business in Texas,” it adds.

 Here is an overview of each bill:

SB 577 —Local Food Regulations and the Local Food Regulation Registry

SB 577 provides clarity to food establishments and licensing authorities regarding the enforceability of health regulations.

Municipalities and public health districts impact:

  • DSHS must create a registry for local health ordinances or regulations that differ from state law or DSHS rules or orders. The legislation is specific to municipalities and public health districts. Local enforcement cannot begin until 60 days after the local public health entity submits applicable local health ordinances or regulations to the DSHS registry.

Local public health entity impact:

  • A county or a municipality that is part of a public health district cannot collect licensing fees for alcoholic beverage sales and for certified food manager (CFM) certificates in certain circumstances:
    • A county or municipality cannot collect fees for the licensing of a location to sell alcoholic beverages if:
      • The establishment already has a Retail Food Permit from the county or municipality; and
      • The establishment is already licensed with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
    • A local health jurisdiction cannot require a person to obtain or pay a fee for a local CFM certificate if that person is already a CFM through a DSHS-accredited program.

Local public health entities (including municipalities, counties, and public health districts) and DSHS impact:

  • Local public health entities and DSHS cannot penalize a retail food establishment for not meeting “easily cleanable surface requirements for wall and ceiling surfaces, decorative items, or attachments in a consumer area [i.e., a dining area], provided the surfaces, items, or attachments are kept clean.”
    • There is an exception:  tables, bar tops, and other similar surfaces where food is regularly prepared or consumed must meet easily cleanable surface requirements.
    • This is similar to language in the 2017 FDA Food Code, Section 6-201.17(B): “In a consumer area, wall and ceiling surfaces and decorative items and attachments that are provided for ambiance need not meet this requirement [i.e., “easily cleanable”] if they are kept clean.”
  • Local public health entities and DSHS cannot restrict the type or quantity of packaging, utensils, or straws provided to a customer by a licensee.
    • There is an exception: the Food Code requirements for food-contact surfaces, including packaging and utensils, still apply.

DSHS implementation activities:

  • DSHS is establishing the process for municipalities to submit ordinances or regulations that deviate from the Texas Food Establishment Rules or Texas law. DSHS plans to update its website with instructions and a link to the registry as soon as possible.

Local public health entities had to comply with the new legislation beginning Sept. 1.

SB 812 —Food Allergen Awareness

SB 812, the “Sergio Lopez Food Allergy Awareness Act,” includes requirements for food service employees and managers to be more aware of food allergies and to know how to mitigate and respond to potential allergic reactions.

Food Service Establishment Impact

  • Every food service establishment must post a food allergy awareness poster in an area of the establishment that is regularly accessible to the establishment’s food service employees.
    • The poster must include information about:
      • Risks of an allergic reaction to a food allergen
      • Symptoms of an allergic reaction
      • A list of major food allergens, as determined by the FDA, and
      • Appropriate responses for assisting an individual who is having an allergic reaction
    • DSHS will develop a model poster and include it on this website by December 2023.
    • Food establishments must comply by Sept. 1, 2024.

Certified Food Manager and Food Handler Course Impact

  • Every DSHS-accredited certified food manager and food handler training and examination must include food allergen awareness. This applies to certificates that are issued or renewed on or after Sept. 1, 2024.

Local public health entity impact:

  • Local jurisdictions cannot adopt or enforce orders, ordinances, rules, or any other measures that are inconsistent with these requirements. 

“As the second-largest private-sector employer in Texas, foodservice operators rely on our legislators to make our business environment as strong as possible,” Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, said. “The Texas foodservice industry is resilient, but the past few years have created enormous challenges for our industry in particular. By working with our state’s officials to make government more efficient, and to plan for future growth, we continue to find enormous success helping restaurants overcome their challenges and thrive.”

This summer, Texas restaurants have experienced a decline of dine-in customers because of the extreme heat. According to OpenTable, Texas’ seated diner traffic has decreased 3 percent to 5 percent compared to Summer 2022. At the same time, food and labor costs are both up more than 20 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. For these reasons, regulatory relief, cost savings and new tools to enhance the customer experience come at a great time for Texas restaurants.

Among the dozens of new laws that will impact restaurants, major themes include:

  • Regulatory consistency and predictability
  • Fewer permit fees
  • Clearer health codes
  • Property tax relief
  • Workforce development

“After the difficulties restaurants have faced since the COVID-19 pandemic, we started the legislative session with a strong agenda that incorporated feedback from operators across the state,” Kelsey Erickson Streufert, chief public affairs officer of the Texas Restaurant Association, said. “We were determined to deliver immediate relief and long-term security for the entire foodservice industry — from single-unit restaurants to chains, franchisees, employees and customers. Many of these plans take effect with the new laws, creating new opportunities for restaurants and the millions of Texans who depend on them.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)