Food Safety

Food Safety Rules: What Does the Hospitality Industry Need to Know?

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Trust20 Contributors • 11 minute read

The hospitality industry is a huge part of the global economy (travel and tourism contributed $7.7 trillion to the global GDP in 2022), meaning the food safety practices in each sector have a global impact.1

Foodservice in the hospitality industry is an ancillary service, meaning it does not contribute to an establishment's core revenue. People's top priority in an airport is to fly away, not to eat the best burger. However, if an airport is known for its food offerings, people might try booking flights through that hub.

As an industry, hospitality is about offering customers a variety of choices. When people travel, that means options for the types of food they eat and how they acquire it.

However, this kind of variety means there are various food safety practices to adhere to. The food safety precautions for vending machines, all-day buffets, restaurants, and to-go marketplaces look a little different–yet all of them are important to protecting customers from foodborne illnesses.

In this blog, we’ll look at different foodservice options on the table, as well as how their operations impact food safety. After all, spreading foodborne illnesses isn’t very hospitable!

Read on to learn about:

How Does Food Service Benefit the Hospitality Industry?

What Do I Need to Know About Food Safety for Vending Machines?

How Do Marketplaces Fit into the Hospitality Industry?

Serving Food in Hotels, Resorts, and Spas 

Foodservice and Entertainment

Food Safety in Airports

Let’s start with why a business would offer food as an option in the first place.

How Does Food Service Benefit the Hospitality Industry?

It all comes down to revenue. The more appealing you make your whole establishment, the better your chances of keeping your customers onsite. More amenities mean less need to search for other options (think all-inclusive resorts or hotels with multiple in-house dining areas).

Even if food is categorized as “ancillary,” food safety is still critical to business operations.

The FDA Food Code does not explicitly mention the “hospitality industry” because food safety regulations apply to establishments serving food to the public–even if food service isn’t the primary focus of the business.

However, the regulations themselves can get extremely specific. For example, airports and office buildings get their callout in 6.202-15(B) regarding outer openings and their ability to protect against insects and rodents.2

Vending machines are another example of this nitty-gritty specificity.

What Do I Need to Know About Food Safety for Vending Machines?

Vending machines are in every part of the hospitality business. In fact, there are more than five million vending machines in the United States, and in 2020, their combined revenue reached about $6.56 billion. Globally, the vending machine market is valued at $18.28 billion.3

Vending machines have come a long way. Gone are the days of machines only stocked with candy bars, chips, and gum (you can still get all these, of course!)–and the fear that your food will get stuck in the machine’s spirals.

Today, you’ll find refrigerated and hot-holding machines that can sell you salads, sushi, soup, and more. Plus, smart vending machines have digital payment options and inventory assessments.

While the options have changed, the concept is the same–vending machines deliver food on demand.

Vending Machines in the FDA Food Code

Food on demand is only a true convenience if the food is safe to eat. The FDA Food Code specifically outlines vending machine safety, and the time and temperature control guidelines are some of the most critical:

Refrigerated vending: Air temperature cannot exceed 41°F for more than 30 minutes. 

Hot-holding vending: Air temperature cannot be less than 135°F for 20 minutes. 

Temperature verification: A thermometer or other temperature-measuring device must be placed in the machine (but not near a door opening since that will not accurately represent the machine's internal temperature).

Safety control: Refrigerated and hot-holding machines must have an automatic shutoff feature if temperatures enter an unsafe range (e.g., during a power outage).

Knowing these temperature regulations is most important when restocking a machine. You have limited time to restock vending machines so the internal temperature does not enter the temperature danger zone.

Some examples of other regulations covering vending machines with specific offerings or design features include: 

  • Liquid vending machines must have internal waste management and back-flow prevention devices.

  • Machines with doors and/or a self-closing mechanism must also have safety controls to protect food from pests and insects.2

Who is Responsible for Food Safety in Vending Machines?

Sometimes, businesses own and operate their own vending machines, and others outsource their management to a vending machine company. Whoever owns a vending machine is responsible for the safety of the food inside.

Vending machine owners are subject to NSF/ANSI25-2023, which establishes minimum food protection and sanitation requirements for the materials, design, construction, and performance of vending machines that dispense food and beverages, including those that vend in bulk. This regulation also includes test methods and acceptance criteria.5 The owners are also responsible for training team members in proper restocking protocol to ensure food safety guidelines are understood.

How Do Marketplaces Fit into the Hospitality Industry?

Like vending machines, marketplaces–or simply markets (not to be confused with a farmers market)–can be found in most hospitality venues, allowing customers to pick and choose from prepared foods and grab-and-go options.

Marketplaces are appealing to operators of venues like arenas, hotels, and stadiums because they draw many different types of customers and can efficiently operate with a lean staff, thanks to self-checkout options.6

Customers can also find casual marketplaces in airports for budget-friendly options or seek out upscale gastronomic eateries in high-end hotels (like Eataly in the Park MGM Hotel in Las Vegas).

Food Safety in Marketplaces

If a marketplace is set up to provide “grab-and-go” options to their customers, time and temperature control of TCS foods is key to food safety.

These controls mean paying attention to how long foods have been sitting under the heat lamps or out of the coolers. They also mean ensuring that anyone restocking food puts items with the closest “best by” date first on the shelves so customers can select the freshest options.

Markets that resemble Eataly typically have to adhere to the same regulations as restaurants. 

Serving Food in Hotels, Resorts, and Spas 

Hotels, resorts, and spas fall under the lodging sector of the hospitality industry (this excludes medical spas as healthcare facilities must adhere to different regulations). These venues serve individual customers as well as larger groups of people associated with banquets, catering events, weddings, and even conventions.

When you see a restaurant inside a hotel or resort, that business can either be operated as a part of the greater facility or managed as a separate entity with rented space from the primary business. Let’s look at how they compare.

Owning a Restaurant vs. Partnering with a Restaurant

The days of a hotel or resort owning the restaurants they house are fading away, and some industry pros even refer to them as “modern-day dinosaurs.”7 They frequently involve a lot of extra logistical work for the lodging business–including adhering to local, state, and federal food safety guidelines.

However, a true hotel-restaurant partnership benefits both parties–and the customers! The restaurant gains access to the hotel guests, and those customers gain access to more food options and additional customization of their room service options. Meanwhile, hotel partners are relieved of the responsibility to oversee food safety practices and liability for any foodborne illnesses.

There are often perks for those who work in a restaurant associated with a hotel or resort. If the hotel ultimately owns the restaurant, roles may come with benefits and additional growth opportunities.

Ruby Brewer-Watkins, a hospitality professional and former chef, was employed by several hotels, a resort, and a casino throughout her years in the foodservice industry–and she preferred it that way.

“There is an opportunity for growth, advancement, and opportunities to travel the world and to learn more about the food and hospitality industry and F&B operations and how it impacts transient guests from all over the world…A hotel team is exposed to more training and tools and held to a higher standard,” she says.

How food safety differs in a hospitality kitchen

How does this difference impact food safety? Restaurants tied to the hospitality industry are overwhelmingly busier than standalone food businesses.

“Chef leaders and production cooks pay close attention to prep time, serve time, and how long food should be held before serving while maintaining proper temperatures of hot and cold foods,” says Brewer-Watkins. “An event for 350 guests requires a lot of preparation in advance–and a key focus on timing to keep cooking and serving times on track.”

Foodservice and Entertainment

The entertainment or leisure sector of the hospitality industry includes businesses that focus on recreation, sports, entertainment, and tourism–and people almost always seek out food and beverages while attending events in these spaces. 

In fact, Oracle’s 2019 Stadium Survey found that 94% of consumers buy beverages and food while at sporting events.8

Stadiums vs. Arenas

Stadiums and arenas are both large facilities that can host sporting events, conventions, and concerts. Arenas are indoor venues that typically hold less than 40,000 people. In contrast, stadiums are open-air and can accommodate even more people (like The Big House at the University of Michigan, which can house 107,000 fans).

Both types of facilities boast a range of food options, from concessions to marketplaces, clubs, bars, and private suites.

Amusement parks

An amusement park is a large outdoor area offering fairground rides, shows, games, and other entertainment. The top 25 amusement parks reportedly served roughly 178.5 million guests in 2022.9 According to GMI Insights, a quarter of the parks' revenue comes from food and beverage.

With statistics like that, owners must take food (and food safety!) seriously. Ballparks, in particular, tend to rack up violations–and always have, according to a 2017 Sports Illustrated article.10 The good news is that most violations can easily be fixed with just a little training and focus on food safety.

A Note about Cruise Ships

While cruise ships are certainly part of the hospitality industry, we did not include them in this article because they often cross international waters and are subject to international laws and regulations.

The Leisure Industry in the Food Code

The 2022 FDA Food Code mentions “multi-menu food service sites in amusement and theme parks” and categorizes them with all other Permanent Outdoor Cooking Establishments (POCEs).

These guidelines aim to ensure that equipment and facilities can safely meet the menu's needs. Based on what is being served, regulatory authorities can evaluate and permit based on tried and true rules regarding cooking, hot and cold holding, and reheating TCS foods.2

The Food Code also details sewage guidelines and provides extensive regulations on “mobile food establishment water tanks” to ensure their safety and durability. These regulations typically apply to vendors in amusement parks, arenas, and stadiums.

Food Safety in Airports

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 77.5 million scheduled passengers in April of 2023 alone.12 More people are traveling than ever, meaning more hungry mouths are on the move!

Airports are government entities receiving funding from federal, state, and local entities. You can find restaurants, marketplaces, vending machines, and more when traveling through an airport, but the government does not own these businesses–their operators rent space from the airport itself.11

This rental agreement means operators running a food business in an airport must follow the same state, county, and municipal guidelines as any other restaurant in the area.

A Note on Aircraft Service

Like cruise ships, many aircraft cross international borders, which means following international rules and regulations. While foodservice on aircraft is heavily regulated, we won’t cover those regulations here.

The Takeaway

Good food safety practices are critical to a business's success. Even if food isn’t the main attraction, it enhances the hospitality industry's experiences, and customers have high expectations of food businesses in these spaces.

Ruby Brewer-Watkins, a hospitality professional, says: “The needs of guests change, and it’s important to accommodate them and be ahead of trends or [food safety] alerts when you can.”

While you work to meet (and exceed!) expectations, it is important to remember that food businesses in hospitality have just as many, if not more, regulations to follow as a typical restaurant.

Consistent, in-depth training from one provider (like Trust20) can help you stay in compliance, protect your customers, and add value to customers’ vacation and leisure experiences!

Remember, the scale of service for food businesses in hospitality is much greater than that of a typical establishment. Because of this, everyone working in these spaces must be committed to following food safety best practices at all times.

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  1. Statista: Travel and tourism: share of global GDP 2019-2033

  2. The 2022 Food Code

  3. Gitnux: Vending Machine Industry Statistics

  4. Alta Obscura: The History of Vending Machines Goes Back to the 1st Century

  5. NSF/ANSI 25-2023: Vending Machines for Food and Beverages

  6. Growing Room for Foodservice at Sports Venues

  7. Hotel Management: Why hotels should leave foodservice to food professionals

  8. Focus on: Stadium Foodservice

  9. 9 U.S. theme parks named among the ‘most-visited’ in the world

  10. What can be done to improve food safety at MLB ballparks?

  11.  Quick-Guide to the Airport Retail and Food & Beverage Industry

  12. The Bureau of Transportation