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Consumer Advisory: An Essential Aspect of the FDA Model Food Code

When it comes to dining out, most of us trust that the food we’re eating is safe. But did you know that certain foods, even when properly prepared, can still pose a risk? That’s where the FDA Model Food Code’s section on Consumer Advisory comes into play. This important aspect of food safety helps inform diners about potential risks associated with consuming raw or undercooked animal products. In this article, we’ll dive into what consumer advisories are, why they matter, and how food establishments can effectively implement them.

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What is a Consumer Advisory?

A consumer advisory is a notice provided by food establishments to inform customers about the potential risks of eating raw or undercooked animal foods. These foods include items like sushi, rare steaks, eggs sunny-side up, and even some raw shellfish. While these foods can be delicious and are often sought after for their unique flavors and textures, they can also carry harmful bacteria or viruses that cooking would normally destroy.

Why Consumer Advisories Matter

Consumer advisories are crucial for several reasons:

  • Informed Choices: They help customers make informed decisions about what they eat. Knowing the risks allows diners to decide whether or not to consume certain foods, especially if they have health conditions that make them more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
  • Legal Compliance: Providing a consumer advisory is not just a good practice; it’s a requirement under the FDA Model Food Code. Food establishments that fail to provide these advisories can face legal consequences and penalties.
  • Transparency and Trust: Offering clear and honest information about potential food risks builds trust between the restaurant and its patrons. Customers appreciate transparency and are more likely to return if they feel their health is being taken seriously.

Key Elements of a Consumer Advisory

According to the FDA Model Food Code, a consumer advisory must include two main components: disclosure and reminder. Let’s break these down:

Disclosure

Disclosure involves clearly identifying which menu items contain raw or undercooked animal products. This can be done in several ways:

  • Menu Descriptions: Include specific language in the menu descriptions, such as “contains raw fish” or “served undercooked.”
  • Asterisks: Use asterisks (*) next to the relevant menu items and provide a footnote explaining that these items are served raw or undercooked.
  • Signage: Place signs or notices at points of sale, such as the menu board in a fast-food restaurant or the bar in a sushi restaurant.

Reminder

The reminder is a statement that informs customers of the increased risk of foodborne illness associated with consuming raw or undercooked animal products. This reminder should be easily visible and understandable. Examples of reminder statements include:

  • “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
  • “These items are served raw or undercooked and may pose a risk of foodborne illness.”

Implementing Consumer Advisories in Your Establishment

Now that we understand what consumer advisories are and why they matter, let’s look at how food establishments can implement them effectively.

Step 1: Identify At-Risk Menu Items

The first step is to identify which items on your menu contain raw or undercooked animal products. This could include:

  • Sushi and sashimi
  • Rare or medium-rare steaks
  • Carpaccio and tartare
  • Raw oysters and clams
  • Undercooked eggs, such as those served in hollandaise sauce or as part of a Caesar salad

Step 2: Develop Clear Descriptions and Advisories

Next, ensure your menu descriptions clearly disclose which items are served raw or undercooked. Use consistent language and symbols to make it easy for customers to identify these items. Draft a reminder statement that will be included on your menu or displayed prominently in your establishment.

Step 3: Train Your Staff

Your staff plays a key role in communicating these advisories to customers. Train them to understand which menu items require advisories and how to explain the risks to customers. This is especially important for servers and front-of-house staff who interact directly with diners.

Step 4: Display the Advisory Prominently

Make sure the advisory is prominently displayed wherever customers make their food choices. This includes:

  • Printed Menus: Include the advisory in a noticeable place, such as the bottom of each page or alongside the menu items.
  • Digital Menus: Ensure online menus and ordering platforms also include the advisory.
  • Signage: Use signs or posters in key areas like the entrance, the counter, or the bar.

Real-World Examples

Let’s look at some real-world examples to see how different types of food establishments implement consumer advisories.

Example 1: A Sushi Restaurant

In a sushi restaurant, raw fish is a staple. Here’s how they handle consumer advisories:

  • Menu Descriptions: Each sushi item is described with notes like “contains raw fish” or “served raw.”
  • >Asterisks: Items with raw fish are marked with an asterisk, with a footnote at the bottom of the menu stating: “*Consuming raw or undercooked seafood may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
  • Signage: A sign at the entrance and at the sushi bar reminds customers of the risks associated with consuming raw seafood.

Example 2: A Steakhouse

At a steakhouse, diners often order their steaks cooked to various levels of doneness, including rare or medium-rare:

  • Menu Descriptions: The menu includes a note saying, “Steaks can be cooked to your preference, including rare and medium-rare.”
  • Asterisks: Steaks are marked with an asterisk, with a footnote at the bottom of the page: “*Consuming raw or undercooked meats may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
  • Server Training: Servers are trained to ask diners how they would like their steak cooked and inform them of the advisory if they choose rare or medium-rare.

Example 3: A Breakfast Café

A breakfast café that serves dishes like eggs Benedict and Caesar salads needs to advise customers about the risks of undercooked eggs:

  • Menu Descriptions: Each item that includes undercooked eggs is noted with phrases like “contains raw or undercooked eggs.”
  • Asterisks: These items are marked with an asterisk, with a footnote: “*Consuming raw or undercooked eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
  • Signage: A sign near the counter where orders are placed provides the same reminder.

Addressing Special Populations

Some groups of people are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses than others. These include pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. It’s especially important to communicate risks clearly to these groups.

  • Special Notices: Consider adding special notices or advisories specifically for these populations, such as “Pregnant women, children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems should avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products.”
  • Staff Awareness: Train your staff to be aware of these at-risk groups and to provide extra guidance and information as needed.

Benefits of Effective Consumer Advisories

Providing clear and effective consumer advisories offers several benefits:

  1. Enhanced Customer Safety: Customers are better informed about the risks and can make safer food choices.
  2. Legal Protection: Proper advisories help protect your establishment from legal issues related to foodborne illnesses.
  3. Customer Trust: Transparent communication builds trust with your customers, showing that you prioritize their health and safety.

4.

  • Reputation Management: Establishments known for their commitment to food safety are more likely to attract and retain customers.
  • Conclusion

    Consumer advisories are a vital part of the FDA Model Food Code, designed to keep customers informed and safe. By clearly identifying at-risk menu items, providing prominent advisories, and training staff, food establishments can effectively manage the risks associated with raw and undercooked animal products. This not only ensures compliance with regulations but also builds trust and transparency with customers. So, take the time to review your menu, update your advisories, and ensure your staff is well-trained—your customers will thank you for it.

     

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