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Food Code Frequently Asked Questions

The District of Columbia Department of Health has revised its food safety regulations by adopting the 1999 federal Food Code, with amendments that are specific to the District of Columbia. The adoption of the federal Food Code is the core of the regulations.  The following questions and answers are intended to help businesses comply with these regulations.

What is the federal Food Code?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes the federal Food Code, a document of food sanitation regulations for retail outlets, and institutions (i.e., restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, nursing homes, etc.).

The FDA federal Food Code refines food safety regulations, while striving to achieve national uniformity. The federal Food Code reflects the most current science and offers the best strategies to ensure a safe food supply in the United States.

What do businesses have to do to comply with the District's Food Code?

The Food Code went into effect on June 6, 2003. 

  • Food establishments that apply for a new food license after September 6, 2003 must fully comply with the Food Code. 
  • Existing businesses (those which obtained food licenses before September 6, 2003) will have a grace period to comply with some requirements in the Food Code. During this grace period, the Department plans to work closely with existing businesses to familiarize them with the Food Code; however, imminent health hazards, such as fire, flood, extended interruption of electrical or water service, sewage backup, misuse of poisonous or toxic materials, onset of an apparent foodborne illness outbreak, gross insanitary occurrence or condition or other circumstance that may endanger the public health, such as rodent infestation, will still result in closures.

The following chart identifies some of the new requirements and when existing businesses must comply: 

Requirement When Existing
Businesses Must Comply
Food establishments must retain a certified food protection manager or a certified limited food protection manager based on whether the Department of Health designates the establishment, because of its menu, to be high, moderate or low risk for food borne illness. For example: A food establishment which sells only pre-packaged non-potentially hazardous foods is considered to be a low risk establishment and need only retain a limited food protection manager. Conversion to new food protection manager certification categories to be completed by December 31, 2003
Food employees must follow specific hygienic practices, including limiting bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food, unless otherwise approved by the Department of Health. June 6, 2003
Food establishments must provide a reminder to consumers of the increased risk of foodborne illness when ready-to-eat, animal derived foods are offered raw or undercooked. June 6, 2004
Food establishments must obtain food licenses when they open as new food establishments, for renewals, and for changes in ownership and also when there are changes in the type of food operations and when there are major renovations of the establishment. June 6, 2003
In addition to the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) Plan currently required to vend certain types of food, HACCP plans are required for certain variances and processes. June 6, 2003
Food establishments must follow a specific process to apply for and obtain a variance from the Food Code. June 6, 2003
Food establishments must obtain, identify and display upon request their contracts for trash hauling, rodent control and grease collection services. June 6, 2003
The frequency of the inspection of food establishments is to be tied to whether the business is designated as high, medium or low risk. June 6, 2004
Refrigeration equipment must meet 41° F (5° C) December 30, 2009
Residential kitchens are allowed in bed and breakfast operations where the available guest bedrooms fall between 4 and 10 and the number of guests served do not exceed 18. They must, however obtain a food license. June 6, 2003
Bed and Breakfasts with three (3) or less guest bedrooms that only serve breakfast and where the number of guests do not exceed 9 are exempted from the Food Code and do not have to obtain a food license but are required to inform their guests that they are not regulated or inspected by the Department of Health. June 6, 2003
Bed and Breakfasts, which have more than ten (10) bedrooms and serve more than eighteen (18) guests, cannot use a residential kitchen. June 6, 2003 
Food establishments must install an approved backflow or backsiphonage prevention device to the plumbing system. June 6, 2004
The Department of Health will begin to issue Certificates of Achievements during an annual rating period. June 6, 2004

Do businesses need a copy of the District Food Code, and if so, where can they get a copy?

You can obtain a copy of the official District Food Code (Title 25 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations) after June 6, 2003 from the: 

District of Columbia Office of Documents and Administrative Issuances
441 4th Street, NW Suite 520 South
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 727-5090

Send exact amount in a check or money order made payable to the DC Treasurer and specify the title and subject. (Title 25, Food and Food Operations)
There is a charge (between $16 - $20) for a copy of that document, which is also available on http://www.os.dc.gov. Click and search under DC Municipal Regulations & Register icon.

For Mail Orders: Send exact amount in a check or money order made payable to the DC Treasurer and specify the title and subject. (Title 25, Food and Food Operations) For Over-the-Counter-Purchases: Bring cash, check or money order. All sales are final. There is a dishonored check charge.

The Department of Health has also prepared a User-Friendly Version of the Food Code, which includes some frequently-asked questions and useful forms. A copy of the User-Friendly Version is also available at: http://doh.dc.gov.

Since the District's Food Code is based on the 1999 federal Food Code, do businesses also need a copy of the 1999 federal Food Code?

No, you do not need a copy of the federal Food Code. However, it does contain useful guidelines and charts, some of which have been incorporated into the Department of Health’s User-Friendly Version of the new District Food Code. If you do obtain a copy of the federal Food Code, please keep in mind that the District has only adopted the 1999 version and the District has modified some sections.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the 1999 federal Food Code, please contact:

US Department of Commerce
Technology Administration
National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal
Springfield, VA 22161

Phone: (703) 605-6000. Refer to report number PB99-115925.

What does the new District Food Code cover?

The new District Food Code Regulations:

  • Control and regulate the retail sale, commercial and institutional service, and vending of food
  • Establish standards for employee food safety practices and training
  • Regulate food sources, preparation, holding temperatures, and protection
  • Regulate equipment, utensils, and linens, their design, construction, number and capacity, location and installation, maintenance and operation, cleaning, and sanitization
  • Regulate the use of water and the treatment of liquid and solid waste
  • Regulate facilities construction and maintenance, storage and use of poisonous and toxic materials
  • Establish requirements for special operations such as residential kitchens in bed and breakfast operations, and catered facilities
  • Establish license requirements for the operation of food establishments
  • Establish a process for restricting or excluding employees who are sick
  • Establish standards for summary enforcement actions, allowing the Department to examine, embargo, and condemn food or food products, equipment, utensils, and linens and to suspend licenses due to imminent health violations
  • Identify the time periods within which critical and noncritical violations must be fixed
  • Establish requirements for license revocations, fines and enforcement administration

If you have questions regarding the District Food Code, who should you contact?

The Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division
Bureau of Community Hygiene
Health Care Licensing Regulation Administration
899 North Capitol Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 535-2180

Contact TTY: 
711