The FDA Food Code and Your Restaurant: What You Need to Know

Chef Preparing a SaladThere are a lot of rules in the 2013 Updated Food Code published by the FDA. Most of them are commonsense rules, but there are some very important bits that every restaurateur should know for fostering a safe work environment, safe storage and handling, cleaning restaurant equipment and much more.


The FDA strongly encourages the creation of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. Essentially, this is a document printed out and available to all of your kitchen workers that details what how to correctly respond to any form of common kitchen emergency. The FDA offers a useful document called “Managing Food Safety” that explains precisely how to execute this process. Having an HACCP isn’t mandated nationwide yet, but a good number of municipalities require it within their borders.

Safe Sourcing

This one is straightforward: don’t accept food from facilities that have not been inspected and certified by the FDA. Easy to remember, right?

Safe Storage

The FDA requires dry goods be stored in a cool (50°F-70°F), dry, well-ventilated area. The refrigerator needs to remain between 40°F and 33°F, and the freezer needs to remain solidly at or below 0°F. All three must have thermometers that are checked regularly to determine that the temperature is safe.

All goods must be properly stocked and removed using the FIFO system — first in, first out — and expiration dates must be checked every day. If a food is to be kept in the box that it arrived in, the date you received the box must be clearly written on the outside and kept visible at all times.

Safe Handling

The specific rules about safe food handling vary from one municipality or state to another, but the general idea is pretty clear. Keep your hands clean and off of the food (through the use of gloves). Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning restaurant equipment and surfaces regularly and by having dedicated areas for handling meats vs. everything else. Store meats and other items that may drip on the bottom of the fridge, with vegetables and cans above them. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge to avoid the risk of bacteria settling in before the item is processed. For a speedy defrosting alternative, submerge the item (in a waterproof container) in water no warmer than 70°F. Finally, cook all of your meats to the FDA guidelines to assure that all of the dangerous microbes in them are killed.

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