A new milestone in micro market food safety has been reached. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has agreed to the concept submitted by the Conference for Food Protection (CFP) to amend the food code so it includes language about micro markets. "That’s a major step,” said Larry Eils, NAMA's health and safety knowledge source partner and retired senior director of technical services for NAMA. “The food code doesn’t say anything about that type of unattended location. Us sending the letter was step one. Them accepting it was step two. Step three will be when we see the document.”
He doesn’t expect the FDA to issue documentation on the amendment to the food code this year, but perhaps early 2019. The wording will be determined by the FDA, but Eils is confident it will take on the intention of the CFP guidance.
Possible food code phrasing
The guidance, and final food code amendment, will be unlikely to mention the term micro market, as it is considered an industry term, according to Eils. Instead, a micro market will be called an unattended food establishment which is defined as an operation that provides packaged foods or whole fruit using an automated payment system; and has controlled entry not accessible by the general public.
To be an unattended food establishment, the CFP, and now the FDA, agree the concept has to meet these seven conditions:
1. Entry is not accessible by the general public;
2. Food is sold in packages intended for individual retail sale and labeled per LAW;
3. Refrigerated equipment for display or sale of TIME/TEMPERATURE CONTROL FOR SAFETY FOOD is equipped with self-closing doors and meets the automatic shut-off requirements for vending machines specified in section 4-204.111;
4. The PERMIT HOLDER is responsible for routine service on a scheduled basis and at a frequency acceptable to the REGULATORY AUTHORITY;
5. The PERMIT HOLDER has an agreement with the owner of the location that outlines the responsibilities for cleaning and maintenance of all surfaces, equipment and supportive facilities/services acceptable to the REGULATORY AUTHORITY.
6. Is under continuous electronic surveillance or similar security precautions as approved by the REGULATORY AUTHORITY; and
7. Contact information for the PERMIT HOLDER is continuously and conspicuously posted at the point of sale.
Eils knows that many in the industry would like to put a micro market in public or semi-public locations, such as a hospital. However, the guidelines for an unattended food establishment make that impossible, right now.
“Someone is going to figure out how to service that type of location, specifically healthcare, without endangering the consumer,” Eils added. “We never say it’s impossible in this industry.”
In the meantime, these CFP guidelines help health inspectors across the country understand and properly evaluate micro markets. They will become more universal now that the FDA has agreeing to use them to update the food code. This will make it easy for operators to open markets across states and is a big win for the industry.