New food ordinance enforcement begins Nov. 12

Beginning Monday, Nov. 12, Houston Department of Health and Human Services inspectors will inspect retail food businesses, including mobile food units, using ordinances recently approved by City Council. The ordinance is based on 2006 Texas Food Establishment Rule.The new regulations incorporate current scientific knowledge on food safety and protection. Owners and managers will have to comply with stricter regulations regarding bare hand contact with food and employee health. 

Food service personnel must demonstrate knowledge based on the risks of food borne illness inherent to the food operation during the inspection and upon request by the inspector.  Personnel may also demonstrate knowledge by complying with the ordinance and by having no critical violations during the current inspection. Other changes include:

  1. Potentially hazardous foods: Refers to time/temperature control for safety (TCS). Excludes shell eggs treated to destroy Salmonellae.
  2. Date marking: The use-by/consume-by date (no more than 7 days) must be labeled on all ready-to-eat TCS/potentially hazardous foods held over 24 hours. Day 1 is the day the food is opened or prepared.
  3. Thermometers: Food establishments must use small-diameter probes to measure temperatures of thin foods (i.e. hamburger patties, fish fillets).
  4. Cook Temperature/Time: The cooking temperature for whole muscle pork (chops, loin, etc.) is now 145ºF for 15 seconds to destroy parasites such as Trichinella spiralis
  5. Hot holding temperature: The hot holding temperature for potentially hazardous foods has been lowered to 135ºF.
  6. Consumer Advisory: Food establishments serving raw or undercooked food items are now required to disclose raw or undercooked food items, and remind consumers concerning the health risks to customers.
  7. Sick Employees: The illness due to Norovirus has been added to the list that requires exclusion from a food establishment. Employees that have sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea must also be excluded from the food establishment. The person in charge must also contact the health department if an employee is confirmed with an illness requiring exclusion. Excluded employees must not enter a food establishment except for those areas open to the general public. Examples of the applicant and food employee interview form, the food employee reporting agreement and the medical referral form are available from the Department of Health and Human Services.
  8. Bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods: Bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is not allowed unless written procedures are in place. Inspectors will check the documentation during inspections. The procedures include documented training of all employees and two approved safeguards against the hazards associated with bare hand contact. Establishments serving highly susceptible populations are prohibited from handling ready-to-eat foods with bare hands. Examples of the documentation required are available from the Department of Health and Human Services.
  9. Water temperature: Minimum hot water temperature at hand sinks is now 100ºF.
  10. Certified Food Manager: The department is now providing an exam-only option for certifying food service managers. The fee for this service is $50.00.
  11. Additional Fees: A technology and administrative fee of $10 will be added to each permit. A $50 fee will be charged to the food establishment for re-inspections
  12. For inquires about the Ordinance, call 713-794-9200. Copies of the Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 20 may be obtained from the Internet at

This news release was issued on November 9, 2007.