New Year, New Food Safety Rules for Allegheny County Establishments
Nothing quite rings in the new year like updated county health codes! In June 2022, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania updated the requirements of food and bev businesses, which will go into effect on January 1, 2023, to incorporate emerging issues in the food industry, such as shared kitchens, deliveries, and food donations, as well as to more similarly align with the state food code and the US Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code.
The Allegheny County Health Department’s Article 3 sets local standards and regulations for the operations, employees, and equipment of over 8,500 permanent and nonpermanent food businesses across the County. These include restaurants, hospitals, personal care homes, schools, caterers, food trucks, and even “pop-ups” serving for a limited time, among others. (Note, farms that provide unprocessed food to the public are exempt from Article 3.)
Below are a few changes that were made in the update:
Typically, when a food business is altered extensively, for example, the installation and change of use of any new major food equipment for heating or cooling food, the Department has to approve these plans before work can begin. However, the updated rules (in Section 304) include clarification language to explain that cosmetic alterations, like a fresh new countertop or paint job, or similar replacements of equipment, like an upgraded refrigerator, do not need to be re-approved by the health department.
In relation to inspections, food facilities that do not operate on a regular basis, for example, catering businesses or guest chef pop-up spots, are required now to at least annually provide the health department with a schedule of their planned dates of operations, times, and locations. This is so inspectors will know when they can schedule inspections. In response to comments related to the fact that mobile food and seasonal food businesses do not always have predictable schedules (sometimes that’s the fun!), the health department explained that the language emphasized schedules submitted are supposed to be anticipated dates of operation, not strictly finalized dates. These changes are found in Section 305.
Another change accounts for the changing landscape surrounding businesses that want to provide customers with returnable and reusable food containers in lieu of single-use packaging. The updated Article 3 requires food businesses who want to give their customers reusable food containers to return and reuse can do so, so long as the containers: are designed and constructed for reuse and follow certain cleaning and sanitization methods, among other requirements. As another example, customers may also bring their own personal take-out beverage containers, such as thermally insulated bottles or non-spill coffee cups to reduce disposable waste so long as they are refilled by an employee or the customer themself, and the re-fill follows a specific Article-3 process for cleanliness. These updates can be found under Section 310.
As more food business owners want to allow furry friends inside, Article 3’s Section 316 was amended to set up an approval process for pets outdoors, however initially proposed regulations for an indoor pet-friendly approval process were scrapped. Instead, the health department explains, it will create an external guidance document for this approval process. Service animals are exempt from any of these special requirements.
Other updates address food labeling and storage changes, distinguish between non-profit and for-profit fee requirements, include changes to delivery and transportation of food requirements (as food delivery options are now essentially ubiquitous), and add new language around the donation of unsold food items, as well as general language updates, seeking to improve clarity and reduce confusion.
You can review a comprehensive list of the updates on the Allegheny County website or see a red-lined version that shows what changed from the previous rule. If you have any questions surrounding your food business or non-profit, whether it’s understanding these new changes before they go into effect or other food-related questions like how to sell at a farmer’s market, begin a commercial food production venture, or make sure you’re in compliance with the updates to PA tipped wage laws, food businesses should meet with a lawyer for their specific needs.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.