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A Full Plate:  South Carolina’s Revised Food Regulations

Restaurants have a lot on their plate, from food management to employee management to customer satisfaction. Add to that plate the host of federal, state and local laws and regulations that pertain to retail food and you have a mound of issues to digest. South Carolina regulators may have made things even more complicated in recent months with a revised set of state regulations for retail food establishments. Regardless of how much issue-overload these revised regulations may present, it is important for restaurants to ensure they implement the new required measures. Compliance is not only important from a licensing standpoint, it is also important from a liability standpoint.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recently revised its regulations for retail food establishments to align better with the FDA model food code and to be based on “the most current science based concepts and practices.” As the new regulations impact food safety procedures, DHEC recommends relevant provisions be incorporated into employment training. These new regulations are to be codified at S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 61-25 and include the following noteworthy procedures:

  • No “bare hand contact” with Ready to Eat foods (3-301.11);
  • Hair and beard restraints (2-402.11) and a definitive rule on fingernail length (2-302.11);
  • Clear, consistent language for consumer advisories on foods (3-603);
  • New records and labeling requirements for certain shellfish (3-203.11 and 12); and
  • Designation of person in charge present during hours of operation (2-101.11).

Among the revisions is a new designation for potentially hazardous foods, which are now called Time/Temperature Control for Safety Food (TCS). There are new TCS handling requirements (e.g., food cooling) and new foods categorized as TCS, including cooked plant food and leafy greens.

If you have a restaurant in South Carolina, you should spend time ensuring you are compliant. The DHEC website provides helpful information to start your review. While compliance is important for food safety inspections, you should keep in mind that any deficiencies could be the basis of civil liability.

In the face of an unfortunate bacteria outbreak or other health hazard, a food establishment can find itself subject not only to government scrutiny; it may also find itself the subject of lawsuits brought by exposed or affected patrons and employees. The first line of defense for the establishment would be a clear demonstration that it is compliant with government and industry standards.  DHEC notes the importance of keeping up to date with current science based practices; these standards are also a significant factor in evaluating civil culpability. If a retail food establishment can show it is compliant with state and federal regulations and conforms to industry standards, it should fare much better in any prospective lawsuits that it may face.

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