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News Release 2/10/2000
City Health Department Implements New Food Safety Ordinance

Houston Department of Health and Human Services inspectors will soon be inspecting retail food businesses using ordinances recently approved by City Council. The ordinance is based on the Texas Food Establishment Rules and the 1997-1999 Federal Food Code.  Implementation will begin February 13, 2000.

The new regulations incorporate current scientific knowledge on food safety and protection. Owners and managers will have to comply with stricter time-temperature controls and time/date marking of certain ready-to-eat foods.  Food establishment personnel must demonstrate knowledge of food borne disease prevention and the application of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles (HACCP).  HACCP procedures require food service personnel to explain to the inspector the most important safety procedures for handling each menu item in their business from receipt to service. Other major changes include:

1. Shell eggs may no longer be stored at room temperature. They are considered to be potentially hazardous and must be maintained in refrigeration at 45°F.

2. Fish, except some species of tuna, if consumed in a raw state, such as sushi, must be frozen for extended periods of time to kill parasites. Freezing records must be maintained for 90 days.

3. Food establishments which offer shellfish (oysters, mussels, clams, scallops) to the customer to be eaten raw are required to notify customers of health risks through a specified consumer advisory.

4. Time only, in lieu of time and temperature as a public health control, is allowed if specific procedures are in place and documented. Foods such as meat kolaches, cooked pizza and sushi may be displayed at room temperature for four hours if written procedures, log sheets and discard records are maintained on premises. These records must be available for inspection and copying by the sanitarian.

5. An internal cold hold temperature for potentially hazardous foods such as meats, dairy products, seafood, tofu and cooked plant products has been reduced from 45°F to 41°F. The 41°F cold hold temperature is not required immediately, except in establishments permitted after September 11, 1999.  There is a 5-year grandfather period, in establishments permitted before September 11, 1999 to allow cold storage units to meet the 41°F requirement, except for “in-use food preparation line equipment” which may be used for the life of the unit. Line equipment must still meet the 45°F until the equipment is replaced, at which time the new equipment must meet the 41°F requirement.

6. Date marking and shelf life requirements for refrigerated ready-to-eat potentially hazardous prepared food is required. This date marking procedure, when properly implemented, will reduce the potential growth of Listeria bacteria on ready-to-eat foods at refrigeration temperatures.  A ready-to-eat food is one that is edible without washing, cooking or additional preparation by the customer or the establishment. Date marking applies to ready-to-eat food prepared on premises or food that is purchased, opened and repackaged and sold on the premises. The shelf life of the product depends on the cold storage temperature—four calendar days for food stored at 45°F or below—seven calendar days for food stored at 41ºF or below. The preparation/opening date counts as one of the calendar days.  For example, if tuna salad, chicken salad, refried beans, pre-cooked chicken held for more than 24 hours in a unit that holds food at 45°F or below, these items must be clearly marked to indicate the preparation /opening date and the disposition date (2-8 to 2-11).  Foods not eaten by the disposition date must be discarded by the establishment.
7. Raw animal products, including raw shell eggs that are broken and prepared to order for immediate service, must have a minimum cooking temperature of 145ºF. Pork, ratites (ostrich, emu and rhea), ground meat and shell eggs prepared for a buffet must have a cooking temperature of 155ºF.  Poultry (other than ratites) and stuffed meats must be cooked to 165ºF.  All these foods must reach the final cooking temperature for a minimum of 15 seconds.  Pasteurized egg products must be substituted in foods that are not cooked or that are served partially cooked, such as Caesar salad; hollandaise or bernaise sauce, non-commercial mayonnaise, eggnog, ice cream and egg fortified beverages.

8. Except in food establishments serving a highly susceptible population (nursing homes, hospitals, day care centers), the requirements for cooking potentially hazardous food do not apply if the customer orders the food raw or partially cooked—raw, marinated fish, steak tartar, rare meat or soft cooked eggs. Consumer advisories such as brochures, deli-case or menu statements are recommended stating the food should be cooked to the temperatures required for food safety.

9. The permit holder/person in charge is required to report health information as it relates to diseases that are transmissible through food by food employees and applicants to whom a conditional offer of employment is made. A food service employee or an applicant to whom a conditional offer of employment is made must report the information so that the person in charge can take steps to prevent the likelihood of food borne disease transmission.  Examples of the applicant and food employee interview form and the food employee reporting agreement form are available from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services.

10. After the food employee has reported being diagnosed with an illness due to Salmonella typhi, Shigella spp , E. coli 0157:H7 or hepatitis A virus or reports a symptom such as diarrhea, fever, vomiting, jaundice or sore throat with fever or a lesion containing pus such as a boil or infected wound or other high risk condition, the person in charge may be required to exclude or restrict the individual's food service responsibilities. For a copy of the exclusion and restriction and the removal of exclusion and restriction chart, contact the Houston Department of Health and Human Services.

11. Unless special procedures are used, food service employees are no longer allowed to touch ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands—for example, using bare hands to place lettuce, tomatoes and meat on a sandwich. They must use gloves, tongs, utensils or tissue paper between the hands and the food. When the use of utensils or single-use gloves is not practical, the employee must use a twenty-second hand wash followed by the used of an approved hand sanitizer before handling ready to eat foods.

12.  Hot water means water of at least 110ºF. Establishments are not allowed to operate without  hot and cold running water.

For inquires about the Ordinance, call 713-794-9200. Copies of the ordinance may be obtained from the internet at

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