Understanding the Risk Terminology in the FDA Food Code
Written by Cindy Rice, RS, Eastern Food Safety
If you are following the 2013 or 2017 FDA Model Food Code, a key feature transforms the way food safety violations are identified, compared to previous versions. While old habits die hard and we still sometimes refer to violations as “Major, Minor, Critical, and Non critical,” newer science-based designations of food safety risk for each provision in the code have been adopted by FDA. They assigned one of these three Risk levels to each inspection item- Priority, Priority foundation, or Core - indicating their potential to contribute to foodborne illness if they are not complied with. These elements provide clarity in the inspection process, and help reduce inspector bias during inspections, a challenge faced by many operators.
A “Priority” item (indicated by “P” after it) poses a significant risk of contributing to foodborne illness if not complied with. Examples of a Priority item in violation would be meats stored at improper refrigeration temperatures, or cross contamination between raw animal foods and ready-to-eat foods, i.e., pathogens directly threatening the safety of foods. Non-conformances of this type should be correctly immediately.
“Priority foundation” items (indicated by “Pf”) are ones that support or facilitate complying with a “Priority” item. For example, handsink with no soap or running water, or a thermometer that is not calibrated. How can you wash hands properly or take food temperatures without the necessary provisions? These must also be corrected in a timely manner.
The rest of the provisions are “Core” items, ones that are largely related to general sanitation or maintenance. Core items might include soiled floors or greasy non-food contact surfaces. Establishments should have adequate cleaning products and tools to address these sanitation issues, so that food safety risks do not escalate.
These science-based risk designations have been welcomed by industry, and help put industry and regulators on the same playing field. Operators can now better understand the seriousness of violations when compared with each other, knowing they are based in science, not an inspector’s whim. As always, follow your local regulations, correct your violations promptly, and keep your businesses running safely and efficiently.
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