Do you run a catering business and you want to stay compliant with FDA regulations? If YES, here are 3 most important FDA requirements for offsite caterers that will serve food without temp control. Offsite Catering tend to mean an approved food establishment that is serving or preparing food at a location other than its permitted location for a contracted food service event.

It can also mean a place of business or organization that routinely contracts with a catering food business to provide food items for individual sale to employees or members of that business. Although the FDA does not directly regulate caterers in the United States, the FDA publishes the FDA Food Code, a model code that assists every food control jurisdiction at all levels of government by providing them with a scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating the retail, food service, and vending segments of the food industry.

This FDA Food Code which creates practical, science-based guidance and enforceable provisions for limiting risk factors known to cause food borne illness, is a model code and reference document for state, city, country, and tribal agencies that regulate restaurants, retail food stores, vending operations, and food service operations in institutions such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and child care centre.

For as long as possible, local, state, tribal, and federal regulators have been using the FDA Food Code as a model to develop or update their own food safety rules and to be consistent with national food safety regulatory policy. Note that between 1993 and 2001, the FDA Food Code was issued in its current format, every 2 years.

With the support of the CFP, the FDA decided to move to a 4 – year interval between complete FDA Food Code revisions. The 2009 Food Code remains the first full edition to be published since the 2005 edition. At the midpoint between new editions, an FDA Food Code Supplement that updates, modifies, or clarifies certain provisions in the Code is made available.

In the various states in the US, FDA Food Codes are adopted and implemented so as to achieve uniform national food safety standards and for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation’s food safety system. As of January 2009, 49 of 50 states and 3 of 6 territories of the United States report having retail codes modelled and patterned after prior editions of the FDA Food Code.

Many federal agencies and tribal governments have also adopted the FDA Food Code. Although the FDA does not regulate Caterers, there are still few FDA based rules and requirements offsite caterers will have to follow to ensure the safety of their customers and business. These requirements include;

3 FDA Requirements for an Offsite Caterer That Will Be Serving Food Even Without Temp Control

1. Structural & Equipment Requirements

A caterer is expected to operate directly from a permitted kitchen that is capable of supporting the proposed operation (operation plans and menus is expected to submitted in writing).

a. Every food transport equipment is expected to NSF or equivalent, and capable of maintaining required temperatures (41°F±2° for cold foods / 135°F±2° for hot foods) and providing protection from contamination.

b. Every vehicle used for transportation is expected to constructed, equipped, and maintained in a manner that protects all food, equipment, utensils, tableware, and linen from contamination. The transportation vehicle is expected to designed so that:

  • The food can loaded in a manner that prevents excessive shifting within the vehicle.
  • The food can be strategically loaded to minimize heat exchange between hot and cold food.
  • The food can be properly stored and segregated to protect it from any source of contamination.
  • Direct transport equipment need not be powered, but if hot and/or cold holding equipment is provided by the caterer for use at the site of the banquet, the equipment must operate under power. Powered holding equipment is required if there is more than a 30 minute delay between arrival and service. An on – site hot – holding box using jellied petroleum fuels is expected to shown to be designed for such use.
  • Shelving or other fixtures is expected to available to prevent foods from being closer to 6 inches from the floor.

c. The overall operation is expected to be capable of maintaining required temperatures of and protection from contamination for all food products during service. Jellied petroleum fuels used in conjunction with chafing dishes for dish-up or buffet service may be used for service lasting no longer than four hours.

d. Continuous food service lasting more than four hours will require approved (third – party, sanitation – certified commercial equipment), powered serving equipment such as portable steam tables and refrigerated tables. Food shields/sneeze – guards will be required for any service open to the general public. Covered chafing dishes, long – handled serving ware, etc, are acceptable for private and semi – private events.

e. A caterer is expected to provide a self contained hand washing station or the venue must have a permanently plumbed hand washing station with hot and cold water service under pressure. A self contained hand washing station is expected to be third – party, sanitation – certified to ANSI/NSF standards and be of commercial design, providing pressurized service of separate hot and cold water, and is expected to capable of containing at least 5 gallons of potable water, 2.5 gallons of hot water, and 7.5 gallons of waste water.

f. The hand washing sink is expected to be provided with dispenser – fed soap and paper – towels, and have a waste receptacle for paper towel waste.

g. All equipment and wares are expected to be transported back to the permitted kitchen for cleaning, unless a permitted support area is provided at the banquet hall or event venue.

h. A catered event in a public venue is expected to be within a reasonable distance of an approvable restroom (functional commode, hot and cold pressurized water service, dispenser – fed soap and towels, ventilated with self – closing door).

i. A worksheet is expected to be completed for this category and must include a comprehensive operational food handling plan.

j. Onsite kitchens and permanent food holding or support areas in public venues, whether or not the particular event is open to the general public, are required to obtain permanent food establishment permits.

2. Post Event Breakdown

i. Open or PHF (TCS) not used at a remote service site or at an event location shall not be utilized by the caterer for any subsequent events unless the food was held at required temperatures and protected from contamination at all times.

ii. Any non – PHF (TCS) pre – packaged single – use articles including but not limited to cans or bottles of soda, individually apportioned condiments, and similar items may be retained for re – use.

iii. All soiled utensils, equipment, tableware, and linen shall be returned to the commissary at the completion of the catered event for cleaning, sanitizing, and storage.

iv. All food, waste, trash and debris shall be discarded in an approved manner.

3. Administrative Requirements

i. Catering from a permitted catering food establishment to an event location requires only a catering permit. Caterers operating a remote service site (point of sale direct to consumer) must have additional permits for each remote service site.

ii. All foods offered for individual sale over the counter, including but not limited to sandwiches, cookies, bagels, or donuts shall be individually wrapped in food – grade material or placed in an approved food container. If sold at a remote self – service counter, all packaged food shall be labelled as specified in Chapter 3 – 602.11 of the food regulations.

iii. While permitted restaurants are not required to obtain a separate catering permit, they must notify their health department that they provide that service.

Even though caterers are not regulated by the FDA, the above requirements are necessary to ensure key health objectives are met. These key objectives, which are the core focus of FDA regulations, include reducing infections caused by food borne pathogens, reducing outbreaks of food borne illness, and improving food employee behaviours and food preparation practices that directly relate to food borne illness in retail food establishments.