New federal food code goes into effect Sep. 4 for county food handlers

August 7, 2012

New federal food rules that go into effect Sept. 4 are expected to increase food safety and strengthen health inspections in Multnomah County and nationwide.

The health inspections in the new federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) code will dramatically change how inspections of restaurants, mobile food units (food carts), temporary restaurant licenses (Saturday Market, Farmers Markets, Cinco de Mayo, The Bite of Oregon), commissaries, bed & breakfast accommodations, warehouses and other food service facilities are scored to more accurately detect problems that are likely to make patrons sick.

“Our job is to protect the public and the community,” said Jon Kawaguchi from the Multnomah County Health Department. “The updated food code ensures that food handlers provide safe food to the public, and it helps prevent foodborne illness and outbreaks.”

Priority violations will pinpoint problems that have a greater risk of producing foodborne illness such as cooking temperature. And priority “foundation” items will address issues with equipment -- such as a probe thermometer, for example, that have risk of causing foodborne illness.

Each priority violation results in the loss of five points and each foundation violation the loss of three points. A third category of items that do not pertain to food safety will be noted but will not affect the score.

Food service facilities start out with a score of 100 then each noted violation deducts points to calculate a final score. A score of 70 or greater will result in a food service being in compliance with the acceptable sanitation standards of the Oregon Health Authority.

A score of 69 or less would result in failing to comply with the sanitation standards. Priority and priority foundation type violations must be corrected at time of inspection in order to remain open for service.

The FDA rules are based on emerging science and designed to lower risk of foodborne illness, Kawaguchi said. The federal code is aimed at reducing the hazards of poor personal hygiene, cross-contamination, improper cooking, reheating, cooling and food from unsafe sources.

Local business owners can still expect to see other changes with the adoption of the federal food code in September.

One provision allows dogs in designated outdoor seating areas. Previous code prohibited dogs in eating areas. In addition, wild mushrooms will be permitted with identification of the mushroom species and buyer verification.

Earlier this summer, the proposed federal food code contained a provision that prohibited employees from preparing foods with bare hands to lower the risk of foodborne illness. However, at this time, the “No Bare Hand Contact” section will not be adopted in the new food safety rules.

Instead, restaurant owners, government inspectors, consumers and others concerned on the matter, will form a statewide workgroup to discuss solutions that address norovirus and fecal contamination of food and how to best reduce illness.

For frequent updates on the food code, information about the workgroup, its public meetings and agendas visit the Oregon Health Authority website or call the Foodborne Illness Prevention Program at 971-673-0451.