Food Safety

As a User of a commercial kitchen you are expected to understand proper food safety procedures and to practice them at all times. Commercial kitchen users must keep it clean and in professional condition, and must follow all State of Iowa and Health Department requirements applicable to your operation. In addition, users are expected to properly clean and sanitize the kitchen after their shift and ensure that the kitchen is ready for the next user.

Food can be contaminated in a variety of ways. Contamination means that the food is not fit for use due to the introduction of undesirable elements. Food can be contaminated physically, chemically, or biologically.


Physical contaminants may include foreign objects such as hair, dirt, rocks, glass or insect or rodent parts. Chemical contaminates can be residues of agricultural chemicals such as herbicides; toxic chemicals contained in polluted water; or chemicals used in the foodservice establishment itself such as cleaners or pesticides. Finally, microbes such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi may contaminate the food biologically. Microbial or biological contamination is the most frequent cause of food borne illness.[1]


In order to ensure food safety in your operation you should:

  • be aware of the need for proper holding temperatures to limit the growth of bacteria in potentially hazardous food,
  • set high standards of personal hygiene for all food workers and
  • prevent the cross-contamination of food through proper food handling procedures.



Improper holding temperatures are a leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. Bacteria thrive in temperatures between 41°F and 135°F, sometimes called the “Temperature Danger Zone.” The FDA recommends that food spend no more than a cumulative of four hours in the danger zone. In general, you want to hold cold foods below 41°F, hot foods at 135°F, and limit the overall amount of time that food is in the temperature danger zone. In addition, you should cool foods as quickly as possible before storing them. The FDA requires that foods be cooled from 135°F to 70°F degrees within two hours, and from 70°F to 41°F within an additional four hours. In general, cooked food must be cooled before it is refrigerated. Accurately monitoring time and temperatures for the foods you produce is extremely important in maintaining food safety.


A high standard of personal hygiene for all food workers is also extremely important. Good personal hygiene extends to proper hand washing during food preparation, clean clothing, the proper use of gloves and hair covering, and policies that prevent sick workers from handling food.



You can minimize the possibility of cross-contamination of food by keeping raw and finished foods separate, and requiring hand washing before starting work, after all breaks, and when moving from one type of food preparation to another. In addition, all equipment including cutting boards, utensils and pans should be washed and sanitized after each use.


Food safety procedures are designed to prevent contamination though proper food handling, and control of the conditions in which food is produced. Good sanitation procedures, good personal hygiene and work habits, proper food storage, as well as heating and cooling food correctly are all important elements of any food safety program.

Improper processing of foods can be a source of dangerous food borne illnesses such as botulism. Acidity plays an important role in food preservation and must be understood if you are producing a shelf-stable product sold without refrigeration. From the regulatory point of view acid, acidified and low-acid foods are classified by their pH level and water activity, depending on the natural acidity of each product.


A product’s acidity is measured based on a pH scale.  If the raw or initial product has a pH above 4.6 it is considered a low acid food. If the pH is below 4.6 then the food is classified as an acid food. Acidified foods are low acid foods to which acid or acid ingredients are added to produce a final equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below. Equilibrium pH means the final pH measured in the acidified food after all the components of the food have achieved the same acidity.[2] Based on their classification, specific FDA regulations may apply to the manufacture of acid, low-acid and acidified foods.


A Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship publication Small Scale Food Entrepreneurship: A Technical Guide for Food Ventures has an excellent chapter on food safety in which they cover the definitions of acid, low-acid and acidified foods, and how they are approved for production.

Manufacturing acidified foods according to a scheduled process is part of ensuring the foods are safe. A scheduled process is a manufacturing process that ensures a food product will not permit the growth of microorganisms harmful to public health. A scheduled process includes critical control factors that result in specific pH levels of the finished product, among other critical factors. Only a process authority with the proper training, experience and facilities can establish a scheduled process.


In general, low acid and acidified foods that are shelf-stable and sold without refrigeration require evaluation by a process or processing authority. The Code of Federal Regulations states: “A processing authority is a person who has expert knowledge of thermal processing requirements for low-acid foods packaged in hermetically sealed containers, or has expert knowledge in the acidification and processing of acidified foods. Knowledge can be obtained by education or experience or both. Expert implies experience, knowledge and achievement as well as recognition as an authority on a subject, usually by one’s peers. Anyone who is establishing scheduled processes must have adequate facilities for making the appropriate determinations (21 CFR 113.83).”[3]


In Iowa administrative rules require establishments or individuals manufacturing food for sale to other businesses to obtain a Food Processing (FP) license through the Department of Inspections and Appeals. Additional licensure may be necessary if the product is considered an acidified or low acid canned food. The closest process authority for evaluating your product is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Processing Center. The Food Processing Center has qualified process control authorities that can evaluate your products and scheduled processes for you and help you meet regulatory requirements. They also do nutritional analysis and shelf life studies.


If you want to sell your product into interstate commerce it may be necessary to register your process with the FDA.

All food served or sold to the public by a food establishment must come from an approved source regulated by an agency such as the FDA, the USDA or the local public health department. This means that all ingredients used in the products you make in the commercial kitchen must be obtained from an approved source licensed by one of these agencies.

Food allergies are adverse reactions to certain foods. Reactions can be very severe involving the body’s immune system, gastrointestinal and skin symptoms or anaphylaxis. Peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish cause almost 90% of all allergic reactions. Complete avoidance of the allergen is often the only option for many of those affected with food allergies.


Food labels are required to state clearly whether the food contains a “major food allergen.” It is your responsibility to identify the presence of a major food allergen in your products through your label.


See the Labeling section of this website for more information about food labeling requirements.

As of January 1, 2014 Iowa requires that a person in charge of a food establishment demonstrate knowledge of food safety as outlined in the FDA Food Code. This new code requirement means that every food establishment in Iowa must have a certified food protection manager. The goal of the updated food safety standard is to prevent food-borne illness.


The Certified Food Protection Manager requirement in Iowa is being phased in over time. Effective January 1, 2014:

  • New establishments must comply with the requirement within six months of licensure.
  • Existing establishments that have not had a food borne illness risk factor or public health intervention violation must comply by January 1, 2018.
  • Any establishment that has had a food borne illness risk factor or public health intervention violation must comply within six months of the violation.
  • If the certified food manager leaves employment, the establishment has six months to certify a new manager.


Taking an approved Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) training course and passing an exam is one way to demonstrate knowledge and satisfy the requirement. ServSafe is a standard for training and certifying food protection managers in the restaurant industry. It is the primary certification used by hospitality establishments across the country to meet the food code requirement for a certified food protection manager. Classes are available monthly across Iowa via the Iowa Restaurant Association and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension. On-line and alternative learning formats are also available.


Requirements will vary based on the rental kitchen that you’re utilizing.

Additional Resources:


The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. “Acid, Acidified and Low-acid Foods. Canning Guidelines for Food Processors.”


Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. “Food Processing Plants, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), 21 CFR Part 110 Summary Basic Areas of Sanitation & Rules.”


Flores, Nancy C. “How to submit a commercial food product for process review.” New Mexico State University. Guide E-325.


Rushing, J.E., and H.P. Fleming. “ Food Processing. Scheduled Processes.” Department of Food Science, USDA-ARS.


Introduction to Safe Food Handling. by BBQ Talk. A series of six brief videos on food safety.


Many useful food safety educational materials can be found at the Johnson County Public Health website in the Commercial Food Operation Educational Materials Library.

[1] Ward, Janet D. and Larry Ward. “Food Safety: Sources of Contamination,” Principles of Food Science, 4th Edition. Tinley Park, IL. Goodheart-Willcox. 2015.


[2] accessed May 20, 2015

[3] FDA. Guide to Inspections of Low Acid Canned Food 9. Processing Authorities. Accessed May 26, 2015.