Food service law fires up this fall

STATE – A new food service code that will affect all food handlers from grocery stores to restaurants will be implemented in November.

The code update has been in the works for several years and is the first of its kind in nearly 30 years.

“We’re really pleased we have a product that adds a number of increased safety elements for Michigan consumers and allows us to work closely with local health departments,” said Katherine Fedder, director of the food and dairy division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA). “This law brings us up to date, and even projects into the future by anticipating technological changes in the industry, and not being so prescriptive about equipment.”

The law adopts the 1999 FDA model food code as the one standard for restaurants and grocery stores throughout the state. The code outlines all state laws governing food service and is easier to understand, said Fedder.

Highlights of the new code include requiring food to be stored at colder temperatures, expanding time and temperature controls for cooking some meats, mandatory sanitation training for employees of any restaurant with recurring problems, food inspection systems based on areas of highest risk and the creation of an education fund for training people in the industry.

One change Pete Solomonson, GM of Mountain Jack’s in Traverse City, will be anxious to see is the concept of critical violations. In the previous code, all violations were seen with equal weight, he said. A structural problem with a building, for example, would have the same weight as a more serious problem with food preparation.

Bill Zaagman, director of government affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, said the law will be a welcome change in the industry. “Restaurants will be provided with safer, cleaner requirements that will be easier to understand–bringing 12 acts all under one umbrella.”

Zaagman admits there will be some cost to the industry because of changed requirements. But, he added, they will take place over time. Refrigeration equipment, for example, will have to be updated because the code lowers the holding temperature from 45°F to 41°F. But a five-year adjustment period will give owners some breathing room.

An education fund earmarked specifically for training people within the industry will also improve safety, he said. If a manager repeatedly has bad inspections and can’t demonstrate knowledge of proper food safety, the department can take steps to require food safety training.

The law goes into effect in less than five months and both the MRA and MDA said they are still in the process of notifying businesses of the changes. BIZNEWS