2021 Food Code: What to Expect

Updates may include a regulatory initiative focus on retail and foodservice.

January 13, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va—While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has focused on manufacturers, processors, growers and importers, the agency may shift its center to regulating the retail and foodservice space instead, reports The Acheson Group.

In late December 2019, the FDA released a supplement to the 2017 Food Code which includes changes such as:

  1. Allow food establishments in limited circumstances (e.g., restricted office building or break room) that pose minimal risk of causing or contributing to foodborne illness to operate without a person in charge, as approved by the regulatory authority. 
  2. Add a new exception for when “time without temperature control” is used as the public health control for ready-to-eat produce and hermetically sealed food upon cutting, chopping or opening of the hermetically sealed container. This exception allows these foods to begin at 70°F or less and remain at 70°F for a maximum of four hours. 
  3. Remove the allowance for use of chemically treated towelettes for hand washing because the means to wash hands in limited situations is readily available and hand washing has been determined to be effective. 
  4. Expand and clarify the type of information that should be included when a HACCP Plan is required by a regulatory authority. 

A full rewrite of the code will happen in 2021—the first full update in four years—and experts believe it will have significant updates. The FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety approach, launched in April 2019, “outlines how FDA plans to leverage technology, and other tools, to create a more digital, traceable and safer food system.”

In a brainstorming document, the agency shared two ideas for Food Code additions which include:

1) Develop Approaches to Help Ensure the Safety of E-Commerce: Add a section to Food Code or issue guidance for industry regarding handling, packaging and transportation, particularly focused on mail-order meal kits.

2) Enhance Traditional Retail Food Safety: Expand the Food Code to require industry food safety management systems for retail establishments.

The additions likely would mean “tighter controls on e-commerce and the delivery models” in use today.