By: Heather Williams

The City of Anchorage Alaska is looking to update Food Codes for 2017.  Over the past 3 years the city has been working on amendments to enhance the health code, bringing the health standards up to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested models.  This follows the trend that many other states are going towards in response to the FDA Food Code 2013.  This Code is a model to safeguard public health to ensure food is “unadulterated and honestly presented when offered to the consumer.”

Food Code 2013

The FDA Food Code 2013 is a model that is offered to state and local governments who are responsible for food service, retail food stores, and food vending operation compliance.  The goal of the code is to reduce the risk of foodborne illness at food establishments.  It provides uniform standards for retail food safety and offers a more standardized approach to audits and inspections of food establishments.

Anchorage Onboard

Anchorage Alaska Health and Human Services asked for public input into the new regulations and is hosting several Open Houses to allow for additional input and ideas for activities intended to be put into place soon.  These new suggested changes to the current health code are in response to federal recommendations from the FDA Food Code 2013 and the State of Alaska Food Code.  During the Open Houses, the proposed changes will be presented and provide for a public forum to discuss what works, what doesn’t, and input from the public.

The Department of Health and Human Services Food Safety and Sanitation Division is requesting any interested person to submit comments on the proposed changes along with any other suggestions for the Department of Health and Human Services.  All comments must be received by Friday, September 22, 2017.  Suggestions should be sent to ATTN: Food Code, 825 L Street, Anchorage, AK 99501, or email [email protected].

Proposed Changes

Many changes are being proposed to the local food code.  Some are minor and an expansion of an existing regulation.  Others are new regulations meant to make food served by food establishments safer for Anchorage citizens.  Others are being removed because they are ineffective or unenforceable.

Remove Exemption for Bartenders

New proposed regulation will remove the glove exemption for bartenders.  As of now, bartenders are exempt from the state law that requires the use of gloves or utensils to handle food that is ready to eat.  Under this exemption, bartenders are allowed bare-hand contact when it comes to garnishing beverages.  For example, cutting and placing lemon/lime peels, olives, or other edible garnishes.

Cottage Food Regulations

Currently, cottage foods and non-temperature controlled products such as jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, cookies, and bread were not acknowledged in any city food code.  In response to the increase in farmer’s market presence in the state; officials want to create new licensing requirements.  This includes an Anchorage food worker card and would require recipe submissions and label requirements.

Fish Internal Temperature

In response to a request by the members of the Anchorage restaurant industry, freshly caught fish will be able to be cooked to 125 degrees F.  This is 20 degrees less than federal internal temperature recommendation.  The request is to allow them to cook a more tender, flaky fish.

Wild Mushroom Notification

A current regulation requires wild mushrooms to be reviewed by a certified specialist.  This is a rule that has not been enforced because of the scarcity of that specific specialist.  The proposed change would remove that requirement.  Mushroom produces are state certified.  A restaurant choosing to serve wild mushrooms instead of certified mushrooms will be required to indicate on the menu that the wild mushrooms are “not an inspected product.”

Wild Game Donations

Current laws do not address wild game meat as a donate-able item to local food banks and cultural programs.  This local law was inadvertently left out in the 2010 update.  Proposed changes would allow wild game to be donated to these organizations.

Grease Traps

Proposed changes to food code would require businesses to clean and maintain grease traps at an interval of 30 days.  Records must be maintained and available to inspectors upon request.

Catering Permit

Suggested changes to the food code will add a requirement of a food establishment permit for caterers.  The State of Alaska code has updated the definition of a caterer and city regulations will follow the same.

Event Coordinator

Currently the position of event coordinator for temporary or seasonal events is a recommendation.  The proposed change will make this position a requirement and for this position to provide oversight for these events.

 Water Testing

The requirements for water testing and reporting of these results is also a proposed change to the food code.

Mobile Food Establishments Signage

New signage requirements for mobile food trucks and pushcarts (i.e. hot dog vendors and coffee carts) are on the agenda for proposed updates to the food code.  This would require the business to display the name and permit number on the main customer service side of pushcarts and on both sides of mobile food trucks.  The lettering must be in 3-inch high letters and numbers.

Push Cart Changes

Proposed changes would require pushcarts to return to an approved commissary daily for cleaning and servicing.  This would make the pushcart need a secondary certified location.

Food Worker Certification

Currently food code allows food workers to complete food worker certification within 30 days of hire.  New proposed changes would shorten that time period to within 7 days of hire.

Community Response

The community has mixed response.  There has been some pushback from bars and restaurant owners over some of the proposed changes.  The main one being the glove rule, requiring bartenders to wear gloves while garnishing beverages.  “If you have to stop what you’re doing in the middle of your show … there’s lots of showmanship involved,” says Kirsten Myles. “It does cut into the experience, and adds time.” Kirsten Myles is the executive director of Cook Inlet CHARR, which represents more than 240 bars, restaurants, hotels, and package stores in the Anchorage area.  Myles explains that while her group understands the need for food safety laws, she questions the extent of the problem and suggests the rule would be burdensome and possibly ineffective for some restaurants.

While the municipality is open to suggestions from the public and those in the industries that will be impacted, any changes to the city food code requires approval by the Anchorage Assembly, made up of 11 members who are elected by the voters of Anchorage.