NEHA Releases Food Freedom Policy Statement
National Environmental Health Association Recommends Protections to Keep Public Safe From Food Prepared Without Safety Oversight
Denver, CO – Last month, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) Board of Directors adopted a policy statement related to “food freedom” operations. The action is a first step in raising awareness about the risk of allowing some foods to be sold without food safety oversight or training, an effort many states and local jurisdictions have been putting in place.
Laws permitting some form of food freedom operations, home-based restaurants, or cottage food operations have been passed in every state. Laws exempting almost every form of regulatory food safety oversight have been enacted in Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Home‐based restaurants, in which an individual prepares and serves a restaurant‐style meal in their home to paying customers, are permitted in California.
Unfortunately, with increased popularity of alternative food production and sales operations comes the increased potential for negative health consequences. Data from the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) show that in the decade from 2008–2018, there were 1,225 reported foodborne illness outbreaks, 22,893 illnesses, 2,737 hospitalizations, and 89 deaths attributed to food prepared in private homes and residences.
A 2017 study collected swab samples from 100 homes in Pennsylvania and found that 45% of home kitchens tested positive for a foodborne pathogen and 12% had more than one pathogen present, including fecal coliforms and Staphylococcus aureus.
“We recognize the value of these operations, particularly as economic opportunities,” said NEHA Executive Director David Dyjack, DrPH, CIH. “We’re also concerned about the inherent food safety hazards that could arise from these practices and subsequent foodborne illnesses it could cause. That’s why it’s so important that some food safety standards are incorporated for these alternative operations.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code is a model for ensuring food is unadulterated and honestly presented when offered to the consumer. It represents the best advice for a uniform system that addresses the safety and protection of food offered at retail and in food service. The FDA Food Code explicitly states that “food prepared in a private home may not be used or offered for human consumption in a food establishment.”
To best protect the public from illness, hospitalization, and even death caused by foodborne illness, the NEHA policy statement on food freedom operations recommends a series of protections that should be in place if the FDA model Food Code is not required to be followed. These protections include requiring organizations operating according to food freedom laws, home-based restaurant guidance, and/or cottage food laws to provide prominent labeling of any food prepared and sold, acquire food only from inspected facilities, ensure the water supply used to prepare the food is potable, ensure the operator has liability insurance, provide training for food workers, and practice time/temperature controls and proper handwashing.
Individuals and organizations are encouraged to use the NEHA Policy Statement on Food Freedom Operations to help describe food safety concerns and solutions with local and state decision makers who influence food policy.
About the National Environmental Health Association
The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) is a professional society with more than 6,000 governmental, private, academic, and uniformed services sector environmental health professionals in the U.S., its territories, and internationally. NEHA is the profession's strongest advocate for excellence in the practice of environmental health as it delivers on its mission to build, sustain, and empower an effective environmental health workforce. This mission is fulfilled in the products and services offered by NEHA to advance the environmental health professional through credentialing, training, education, networking, professional development, and policy involvement opportunities. Learn more about NEHA at www.neha.org.