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Health Regulations & Food Safety

Massachusetts has adopted the 1999 Food Code and it is still current to this day. This synopsis will outline requirements for all foodservice establishments in Massachusetts.

105 CMR 590.000

Certified Food Protection Manager Requirement
Every foodservice establishment must have at least one full-time equivalent employee who is at least 18 years of age, and who has passed a food safety exam which is recognized by the Department of Public Health, such as the ServSafe® Serving Safe Food certification offered by the MRA. This person must be someone who is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day preparation of food. Although the Department does not require that this person participate in a training program, passing one of the recognized exams does require detailed knowledge of food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness. Most employees will need to take a training course in order to pass the exam and become certified. The only establishments which are exempt from this requirement are:
  • Temporary food establishments operated by non-profit organizations
  • Daycare operations which prepare and/or serve only snacks
  • Food establishments which sell only prepackaged foods
  • Food establishments which conduct limited preparation of non-potentially hazardous food
  • Food establishments which prepare and serve USDA meat and poultry products containing 120 PPM nitrite level, 3.5% brine concentration such as frankfurters.
The Assignment of a Person in Charge (PIC)
A PIC must be present in the food establishment during all hours of operation. The assigned PIC must be knowledgeable about food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness. The PIC must also ensure that the food establishment is operating in compliance with 105 CMR 590.000. Most of the time, the person who is the certified food protection manager should be the PIC. When that person is not on the premises, an alternate PIC should be assigned. The alternate PIC does not have to be certified, but they are expected to carry out the same duties as the certified person. No foodservice establishments are exempt from this requirement.
Employee Health
The PIC must require that employees report when they are ill with symptoms which could be due to an illness which can be spread through food. Symptoms which should be reported include diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice, fever, sore throat with fever, and any cuts or open wounds on exposed skin. Employees must also report to the PIC when they are diagnosed with an illness which could be spread through food or if they live with someone who has such an illness. They must also let the person in charge know if they or someone in their household has been exposed to an outbreak of foodborne illness and therefore are at risk for getting such an illness.

Employees who have symptoms or who are diagnosed with such an illness will either need to be restricted in their duties or prevented from working altogether and consult your local Board of Health. The bottom line is that ill employees should not be working with exposed food and clean utensils and equipment, and in some cases ill employees should not be working at all.

No Bare Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Foods
The regulations prohibit all bare hand contact with RTE foods. Deli tissues, gloves, tongs, and spatulas are good alternatives to using bare hands. The only exception is that bare hands can be used to wash fruits and vegetables. If an establishment wishes to use bare hands when preparing RTE foods, they must first develop and maintain a Written Alternative Operational Procedure.

This procedure must include a description of the food preparation process in which bare hand contact will be used, a description of how employees will be trained in proper hygiene and how they will be monitored, and how the PIC will verify that the employee health requirements are being met. The exact requirements are spelled out in the brochure entitled "Alternative to Bare-Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat Foods." The written procedure must be made available to the Board of upon request.

Consumer Advisory
When an establishment serves or sells raw or undercooked animal foods as ready-to-eat foods, the consumers must be advised that eating such foods increases their risk of a foodborne illness. All foods of animal origin are of concern including fish, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products. The raw or undercooked food or ingredient must be clearly identified to the consumer, and the consumer must also be reminded about the increased risk of illness due to eating undercooked or raw animal foods. The reminder can be written on the menu, on a table tent, on a placard, put in a brochure, or by any other effective written means.
Time as a Public Health Control
This provision allows potentially hazardous foods to be left out at any temperature for up to 4 hours prior to service for immediate consumption or during necessary preparation prior to cooking. However, before an establishment may do this they must develop a written plan which describes how they will mark and monitor the food so that it is either cooked, eaten or discarded by the end of the 4 hours.

The establishment must submit their plan to the local Board of Health and obtain approval BEFORE they are allowed to use time as a public health control. Once a food is taken out of temperature control, it must be consumed or cooked within 4 hours or it must be thrown out. It may not be cooled, refrigerated or frozen for use at another time.

Game Animals
With more restaurants preparing and serving dishes consisting of "game animals," a classification of the edible species has been listed by this Code that includes proper cooking times and temperatures. The classification includes: reindeer, elk, deer, antelope, water buffalo, bison, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, nutria or muskrat and nonaquatic reptiles such as land snakes.
Potentially Hazardous Food
Basically, a "potentially hazardous food" (PHF) is one that can support the rapid bacterial growth that may cause foodborne illness. In addition to the protein foods like meat, poultry, dairy products and seafood, this Code adds cut melons, garlic/oil, sprouts, heat-treated vegetables and shell eggs to the current list of PHF. The change has come about because of these foods' involvement in foodborne illness outbreaks. Operators must know how to identify the PHF, the proper temperature controls for them and ensure that measures are taken to protect the foods during the handling and preparation process. It is also important to know the foods that are categorically excluded from the definition:
  • Foods below pH 4.6 (acid foods)
  • Foods below a water activity (aw) of 0.85 (dried, salted or sugared foods)
  • Foods that have been specifically approve by the authorities for different handling.
The new Code specifies that the actual washing of hands be performed for at least 20 seconds.
While preparing food, food handlers may not wear jewelry on their arms and hands. (Exception: this requirement does not apply to a plain ring such as a wedding band.)
Except for foods whose receiving temperature is specified in laws governing its distributions, i.e., fluid milk and milk products, molluscan shellstock and shell eggs, potentially hazardous foods must be received at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Cold Holding
Refrigerated potentially hazardous foods must be maintained at 41 degrees F or less.
Cooking Temperatures
This code requires that raw animal foods such as eggs, fish, meat, pork and game animals and foods containing raw animal foods must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F or above for 15 seconds.

A significant change in the 1999 Code concerns the cooking of ground beef. Ground beef, ground fish, or ground game animals must now be cooked to a time/temperature combination of:

  • 155 degrees F or above for 15 seconds, or
  • 150 degrees F for 1 minute, or

145 degrees F for 3 minutes Poultry and stuffed food products, to include: stuffed pasta, stuffed meats, stuffed poultry, stuffed fish, and stuffing containing fish, meat or poultry, must be cooked to a minimum of:

  • 165 degrees F or above for 15 seconds. Specific guidelines are listed in the code for the cooking of whole beef roasts, corned beef roasts, pork roasts and cured pork roasts such as ham. The temperature requirements are based on the size of the roast, humidity and the type of oven used.
  • The temperature requirements include the postoven heat rise normally associated with these procedures. You may want to reevaluate your current or future cooking equipment and processes to ensure that the time temperature requirements can be met. The code oven requirements are listed in the charts below:
  • Whole muscle, intact beef may be served raw or undercooked as long as the external surfaces reach a temperature of 145 degrees F and this item is not served to a highly susceptible population. (Beef prepared using this method does not require a consumer advisory.)
  • Raw animal foods cooked in a microwave must be heated to a temperature of 165 degrees F and allowed to stand covered for at least 2 minutes after cooking.
Cooked potentially hazardous foods must be cooled from 140 degrees F to 70 degrees F within 2 hours and from 70 degrees F to 41 degrees F within an additional 4 hours. If a food item originates at room temperature, it must be cooked within 4 hours. Specific methods for achieving the proper cooling of food items are suggested in the new code. Specific methods for achieving the proper cooling of food items are suggested in the new code.
Highly Susceptible Populations
Special requirements for highly susceptible populations are reflected through enhanced food safety protection for at-risk populations.

The term "highly susceptible populations" is defined as "a group of people who are more likely than other populations to experience foodborne disease because they are immune- compromised or older adults and in a facility that provides health care or assisted living services, such as a hospital or nursing home; or preschool age children in a facility that provides custodial care, such as a day care center."

Parasite Destruction
Before service or sale in ready-to-eat form, raw, raw-marinated, partially cooked, or marinated-partially cooked fish other than molluscan shellfish must be frozen throughout to a temperature of:
  • -4 degrees F or below for 168 hours (7 days) in a freezer; or
  • -31 degrees F or below for 15 hours in a blast freezer.

Except that if the fish are tuna of the species Thunnus alalunga, Thunnus albacares (Yellowfin tuna), Thunnus atlanticus, Thunnus maccoyii (Bluefin tuna, Southern), Thunnus obesus (Bigeye tuna), or Thunnus thynnus (Bluefin tuna, Northern), the fish may be served or sold in a raw, raw-marinated, or partially cooked ready- to-eat form without freezing.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)
HACCP is a prevention-based food safety system designed to prevent the occurrence of potential food safety problems. This is achieved by assessing the inherent risk attributable to a product or a process and then determining the necessary steps that will control the identified risks.

The person in charge must be able to demonstrate the application of HACCP principles during the inspection process when requested. HACCP plans are also an integral part of the variance process.

Imminent Health Hazard
The permit holder must immediately discontinue operations and notify the regulatory authority of an imminent health hazard which may exist, because an emergency such as a fire, flood, extended interruption of electrical or water service, sewage backup, misuse of poisonous or toxic materials, onset of an apparent foodborne illness outbreak, gross insanitary occurrence or condition, or other circumstance, may endanger public health.

Exception: The permit holder need not discontinue operations in an area of an establishment that is unaffected by the imminent health hazard.

Massachusetts adopted the 1999 Food Code by reference, which means that the 1999 Food Code coincides and works with Massachusetts' own State Sanitary Code, 105CMR 590.00. The 1999 Food Code can be downloaded from

The MRA advises its members to stay informed and educated about the new food code and its effect on your business by going to the MA Department of Public Health's Food Protection website at:

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