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|Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish, egg or any product containing these raw or undercooked food items may increase the risk of foodborne illness especially if you have certain medical conditions
Food safety made easy
People always say, "Knowledge is power." This is also the case when it comes to food safety. Having a basic knowledge of what can cause foodborne illnesses is the first key to lessening or stopping their effects from threatening public health. Not everyone is well informed about the potential risks of consuming particular food products such as minimally processed or raw ones. To protect the consumers and food businesses alike, food safety agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require food establishments to provide any consumer advisory particular to the subject matter.
Consuming raw, undercooked, or minimally processed foods has a higher risk of inflicting foodborne illnesses to consumers. This fact is very much applicable when eating foods that are meant to be eaten raw such as sushi, tartare, and ceviche. In fact, the World Health Organization has identified the consumption of undercooked foods as the major cause of diarrhea. Even if a food establishment implements very high and strict food safety standards, the risk of becoming inflicted with foodborne illnesses is still present.
Learn about the proper ways of making and using consumer advisories for your food business in this article.
What is a consumer advisory?
A consumer advisory is a key component under your HACCP plan that aims to educate your customers about the food safety-related risks when eating raw or undercooked food. Undercooked food carries an increased risk of foodborne illnesses, and the customers need to be informed of that. This statement is to protect the most susceptible customers who are especially vulnerable to foodborne diseases and include the elderly, pregnant women, toddlers, and people with compromised immune systems.
A consumer advisory is required when serving raw or undercooked foods in a food establishment as mandated by food agencies. This doesn't mean that you cannot offer rare or medium doneness meat to your customers, but a customer advisory will help your customers to make informed dining decisions and make their dining experience safer.
Food establishments usually put their consumer advisory on the menu or hand out a consumer advisory brochure that they use. Other ways of displaying this information may include the use of consumer advisory on a placard, food label, table tent, or signage that is placed in very visible areas.
A consumer advisory is composed of two different parts, disclosure, and a reminder. The former part, a disclosure for items in the menu, is an identifying statement written together with the subject animal-origin ingredient. This part can be written by using words such as "raw" or "undercooked" as part of the dish description. In addition to the disclosure, a reminder statement is written that the consumption of raw or undercooked food increases the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Foods that require a consumer advisory include the following:
- Pork - medium-rare doneness or hamburger
- Poultry - duck, raw egg, soft-boiled egg, sunny side up
- Beef - tartare, hamburger, rare to medium-rare steak, carpaccio
- Seafood and shellfish - sushi, smoked-fish, ceviche, jumping salad, oysters, and mussels
In some states, other food products such as unpasteurized fruit, unprocessed milk, and vegetable juices similarly require a customer advisory on the menu. A customer advisory needs to be present and very visible to consumers. Foods such as raw milk carry a significant food safety risk. As part of consumer engagement, it should also be readily accessible if a consumer requests more information.
Who needs a consumer advisory?
If your food business menu includes undercooked or raw animal products, the FDA requires you to publish a written consumer advisory. Regardless of the format of your food establishment, whether you are operating a food truck, retail food establishment, a deli stand, or a restaurant, you are required to have a consumer advisory if you are serving raw or undercooked food products.
What are the benefits of a consumer advisory?
A consumer advisory is a part of the requirement to meet the current food code and food safety law established by food safety agencies and experts on consumer protection. Aside from being a part of consumer rights, it offers several benefits that all aim to protect public health. When properly placed, and effectively advertised, a consumer advisory can help you protect your business while protecting public health.
Here are some of the benefits that you can gain from using a consumer advisory:
Educate while protecting your consumers. A consumer advisory allows customers to make an informed decision by widening consumer views. By disclosing information that eating raw or undercooked foods increases the potential health risks of getting foodborne diseases, the customers gain a better understanding of the potential consequences of their actions.
Reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses. For people who are generally more susceptible to foodborne illnesses, a consumer advisory can save them from suffering any inconvenience. They can either choose to not purchase the product or request for it to be cooked thoroughly.
Safeguarding your food business. Publishing consumer advisories protects your food business from consequences such as lawsuits as a result of consumer issues. This can only be achieved if your advisories are readily visible and accessible for consumers. Your food business can raise a dispute that you have done your part and that any coincidental foodborne illness after consuming your food item may have been influenced by other factors.
Accountability. Having a consumer advisory is not meant to be a scapegoat for food businesses. This does not mean that you are totally off the hook when a foodborne illness occurs after a consumer eats raw or undercooked foods from your establishment. You may still be subject to further inspections for the protection of consumer interests. As such, your team is forced and encouraged by this tool to uphold strict food safety standards to rule out the possibility of breaching protocols resulting in consumer complaints.
How to create a consumer advisory?
A consumer advisory is a very simple concept. It can be used as a simple statement on the menu or printed and displayed on your viewing counter or the actual section of the raw foods in the case of deli stands in the form of table tents. Despite its simplicity, a consumer advisory is written using a specific set of guidelines.
In satisfying consumer advisory requirements, you have to follow these rules:
Disclose whether a dish may contain raw or undercooked food items by writing an identifier beside it in its description.
- Write the word "raw" or "undercooked" to describe the food (e.g. contains raw fish)
- Use a footnote to indicate that an item in the menu may contain or is served as raw or undercooked. Mark all dishes with an asterisk where this footnote wordage applies.
Write a reminder (footnote in the previous item) about the risks of consuming raw or undercooked foods at the bottom part of the advisory or the menu. The reminder can be a complete thought of the consequences of consuming such foods or an instruction to request more information from the servers as a form of assistance to consumers.
Consumer advisory examples
Here are some easy examples of disclosure statements and reminder components to keep in mind when composing a menu:
Steak tartare (raw beef*)
Sushi (raw seafood*)
Oysters (raw oysters*)
Ceviche (raw fish*)
Gohan (may contain raw egg*)
*Consuming raw or undercooked foods or dishes that may contain raw or undercooked ingredients increases the risk of having foodborne illnesses.
*Items are served or contain raw or undercooked ingredients. Request for safety information from servers.
In addition to these suggestions, you can also use more detailed explanations as your reminder:
Eating raw or undercooked foods or dishes that may contain them has a higher health risk of causing any foodborne illness to highly susceptible populations of consumers such as the elderly, pregnant women, children under the age of 5, or immunocompromised individuals.
If you are considered as a part of the high-risk consumers (e.g. elderly, immunocompromised individuals with medical conditions, pregnant women, or children) you are at greater risk of catching any foodborne disease from eating raw foods such as seafood and meat. Consult a physician about your case.
What is the easiest way to get a consumer advisory?
Creating the perfect consumer advisory that is brief yet concise and encapsulates the nature of your entire menu and food business can be a bit challenging at first. In addition, if you are a food business dealing with various foods on stands that are served raw or uncooked such as a deli section, you would need several copies of a consumer advisory. As such, it is always a good idea to have a very flexible template for making a consumer advisory.
In addition to this customizable consumer advisory template, we also offer other essential templates for your food business. All of our templates are customizable and can be downloaded and printed for use. Check out our HACCP plan template hub where you can find all the most common and essential HACCP plan checklists, advisories, monitoring forms, and poster templates. Oh, did we mention that they are free? Because they are!
Go digital with our Food Safety Management System
While we are on the topic of custom templates, why not take your whole food safety management to the next level? Compiling all these documents such as advisories, certificates, checklists, and posters can become a hassle at some point. Not to mention, you always have to keep track of them all the time. As a food manager, you have to always make sure that your operations bear no negative cost to consumers. There's barely enough time for you to manage your food business.
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