Taking another step toward achieving national uniformity among regulatory programs responsible for retail food protection, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued its 2015 edition of the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (“Retail Program Standards”) last Friday. The Retail Program Standards are an important remaining piece in the FDA’s “Food Code”, which is a model designed to help state and local regulators charged with ensuring food safety in retail and restaurant food supply chain operations.

The Retail Program Standards apply to the operation and management of retail food regulatory programs that are focused on reducing risk factors known to cause or contribute to foodborne illness and promoting active managerial control of those risk factors. Developed with valuable input from industry associations and associations of regulatory officials, among others, the Standards promote adopting science-based guidelines from the FDA Food Code to ensure a sound regulatory foundation based on a continuous improvement process.

Most notably, the Standards promote:

  • Improving training programs to ensure that local, state, tribal, and territorial staff have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to adequately perform their required duties;
  • Implementing risk-based inspection programs that focus on the status of risk factors, determines and documents compliance, and targets immediate- and long-term correction of out-of-control risk factors through active managerial control;
  • Establishing a quality assurance program to ensure uniformity among regulatory staff in the interpretation and application of laws, regulations, policies, and procedures;
  • Establishing a system to detect, collect, investigate and respond to complaints and emergencies that involve foodborne illness, injury, and intentional and unintentional food contamination; and
  • Ensuring compliance and enforcement activities result in follow-up actions for out-of-control risk factors and timely correction of code violations.

For industry, the biggest benefit of the Retail Program Standards is the potential enhancement of uniformity within and between regulatory agencies. The Standards also provide guidance as to best practices in retail food safety. A complete list of jurisdictions enrolled in the Retail Program Standards is available at Listing of Jurisdictions Enrolled in the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards.