Recent Health Code amendments & some Action Steps

by Austin Publicover

For restaurants and other food service establishments, the new New York City Health Code (NYCHC) amendments went into effect on Saturday, August 8. That’s right: the Health Code was amended and will now be enforced by Dept of Health Bureau of Food Safety (DOH) inspectors. The thirty-three page document outlining the amendments can be found here. We've chosen to summarize the big stuff to make it easier to digest.

Below are some short descriptions of the amendments and some action steps you can take.  Keep reading! There are sections that are likely pertinent to your establishment, but they may be farther down the list.  We’ve listed these according to the Code section numbers.  The topic is summarized and followed by the actual NYCHC section so you can look it up for yourself.

1. QUAT can now officially be used as a sanitizer after being tacitly accepted for years.  The full name of “QUAT” is Quaternary Ammonium Compound; it’s a popular sanitizer that is now included in the Health Code (NYCHC 81.03(ii)).

Action Step: QUAT is terrific because it readily removes odors, is not volatile like chlorine and is non-corrosive.  However, effective sanitization of a food contact surface requires 60 seconds of immersion in a 200ppm solution of QUAT… which is also the same amount of immersion time as with sodium hypochlorite (aka “chlorine”). QUAT is also negatively affected by water hardness (we generally have soft water in NYC) and low temperature, so ensure that, if you’re using QUAT, immersion time is 60 seconds and water temperature is right around 75F (23.89C).  If you’re wiping surfaces with QUAT, you’ll want to use a solution that is twice as strong as the QUAT in your pot sink, so use your test strips and make sure that the sanitizing bucket & towel solution for wiping food contact surfaces is 400ppm.

2. Scallops sold with their roe have been added to the list of shellfish for which identification tags must be retained. (NYCHC 81.04)

Action Step: Talk to your fish purveyor. This requirement applies to scallops sold live (still in their shells) or scallops which have been shucked & still have their roe attached.  Shucked abductor muscle of the scallop doesn’t require tags.  Remember, you must retain 90 days of shellfish tags (for oysters, clams, mussels, and now scallops).

3. Exotic game meats must be acquired from commercially regulated sources (NYCHC 81.04)

Action Step: Ensure that all your meats come from a USDA-approved butcher.  This section applies to any game animals, which includes mammals such as reindeer, elk, deer, antelope, water buffalo, bison, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, nutria or muskrat and nonaquatic reptiles such as land snake.

4. Unpasteurized (house-made) packaged juice must be labeled in accordance with (NYCHC 81.04(e)).  This applies to all juices which have been sealed in bottles or other containers, such as the style you’d find in a grab-and-go display.

Action Step: If you are just making juice for sale & direct consumption at your restaurant, you do not need to comply with the labeling law.  But if the juice is in a bottle & has a cap, top, or is sealed (grab-and-go) in anything other than a disposable to-go cup, then the juice must be labeled in accordance with 81.04(e) of the NYC Health Code, which is available here.

5. Use hot water for in-use utensils instead of a dipper-well (NYCHC 81.07(h))

Action Step: Use an induction burner or any heat source to maintain a container of water at or above 135F (57.2C) and change that water every four hours or when there is any food residue or food particles.  With this method, you can now keep spatulas, tongs, spoons, and any other in-use utensil in water without receiving a violation!

6. Utensil handles must be of sufficient length to prevent bare-hand contact with food (NYCHC 81.07(h))

Action Step: if your pan is 5 inches deep and your spoon is only 4 inches long, you need to buy a longer spoon!  The handle must be long enough to prevent contact with the product that the utensil is stored in.

7. Drinking straws and other single-service items such as plastic forks & spoons must be dispensed to prevent contamination (NYCHC 81.07(o))

Action Step: Wrapped straws and utensils are about the only way to comply with this amendment, except with straw dispensers which put forth one straw at a time. Best practice with utensils would be to have your team hand out the utensils individually per order rather than having the utensils available in a customer self-service area.  Although we haven’t officially confirmed this with DOH, napkin-wrapped sets containing a fork/knife/spoon could also qualify as protected when in a customer self-service area.

8. Raw or undercooked fish for consumption (carpaccio, ceviche, sashimi, crudo, gravlax, hoe, lakerda, poke, sashimi, sushi, tartare, umai, etc) must be frozen first, except for molluscan shellfish, certain species of Tuna, aquaculture or farm-raised fish which meet certain criteria, or fish eggs which have been removed from the skin and rinsed (NYCHC 81.09a).

Action Step: Ensure that the fish you’re serving raw or uncooked have been frozen first to FDA Seafood HACCP guideline temperatures, below:

2 Frozen holding temperature for fish.jpg

These temperatures can’t be achieved in standard freezers alone, and laboratory freezers which can achieve these temperatures cost upwards of $20,000.  Chances are, however, that your fish purveyor has access to such equipment.  Request an assurance letter stating that your fish has been frozen in accordance with the 2013 FDA Model Food Code or the chart above, and keep the letter on file.  If you want more information as to whether the fish you want to serve raw or undercooked may be subject to parasites, check out the FDA’s Hazards Guide here and look at pages 31 – 69. 

9. Pork cook-to temperature is now 150F (65.6C) for 15 seconds (NYCHC 81.09(c)(2))

Action Step: the cook-to temperature has been lowered by five degrees.  Now you can serve juicier, tastier pork without being in violation of the Health Code.

10. Shallow pan depth defined for cooling. “Shallow pan” now has a measurement: less than 4 inches in height (NYCHC 81.09(e)(1)(a))

Action Step: when cooling heated food in refrigeration or an ice bath, the pan in which the food is must be less than 4 inches in height.  And just a reminder: all potentially hazardous food must be cooled from 1400F to 700F within two hours, and from 700F to 410F or below within an additional four hours.  That’s six hours total.

11. “Time as a Public Health Control” labeling has been clarified to include that labels must be legible and include the date (NYCHC 81.10)

Action Step: Instead of using temperature to hold potentially hazardous foods, you can use “Time”.  There’s a terrific DOH publication about “Time” available here.  The date must be on the label… of course, that should be today, as the whole premise behind “Time” is that food is not held for more than 4 hours (or not more than 6 if it hasn’t reached 700F).

12. Consumer Advisory will be required to be on your menu, menu board, brochures, placards, signage, etc by January 1, 2016. This is a new requirement in NYC but has been in place in hundreds of other cities around the nation.  The Consumer Advisory only applies to those establishments which are serving raw or undercooked seafood, eggs, or meats.  The Consumer Advisory must state: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness”. 

Action Step: Determine which foods you will be serving undercooked (such as a rare or medium-rare hamburger) or raw (such as oysters, beef tartare, sashimi, or raw-egg Cesar salad dressing), then place an asterisk after the menu item name.  The asterisk will then refer to the Consumer Advisory, which will be at the bottom of the menu or menu board.  Get it done before January 1, 2016!

13. No electronic cigarettes or “vape pens” in any non-smoking area of the food service establishment is not exactly a new requirement, but we’ve seen more rigid enforcement in view of the increased popularity of “vaping” (NYCHC 81.13(g))

Action Step: inform your team that, in addition to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other forms containing nicotine, vape pens are also not allowed to be used by foodworkers.  Download this sign and print out to replace your tattered old “No Smoking” sign.

14. Garbage must be stored in containers which have tightly fitting lids or which are “securely fastened”.  Once the garbage has gone outside for collection by your carter, it doesn’t need to be in a container with a tightly fitting lid… but while it’s stored inside a food service establishment, tightly-fitting lids are the only thing that’s accepted (a tied bag is not a “lid”) (this does not apply to trash which is actively used, such as those being used in the bar, dish area, or prep area) (NYCHC 81.24)

Action Step: Looks like it's time to purchase some Rubbermaid or similar brand trash cans with tightly fitting lids.  Easy!

15. Reusable beverage containers and other containers which will not be washed/rinsed/sanitized prior to being filled need to either have beverages dispensed into them in a manner that prevents contact with food-contact surfaces and/or the beverage dispensing equipment or, in the case of containers filled with food, must have a written, DOH-approved Standard Operating Procedure which demonstrates that there is no contamination of food and/or food contact surfaces (NYCHC 81.46)

Action Step: coffee mugs and soda cups can continue to be refilled if they’re not used to scoop ice and if the mug or cup doesn’t come into contact with the pitcher or soda-contact surface of the soda machine.  Food containers which are brought in by guests or patrons now need a Standard Operating Procedure to be re-filled, or first need to be washed/rinsed/sanitized before being filled or otherwise handled by foodworkers.


And finally, a brief disclaimer: the views and “Action Steps” expressed above are well-informed but do not necessarily reflect the views of the City of New York ("NYC"), the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Bureau of Food Safety & Community Sanitation ("DOH"), or any other public or private entity.