Self-Service Food Market FAQs

SELF-SERVICE FOOD MARKET (MICRO MARKETS)

 The self-service food market concept has established itself with the rapid growth and success. The questions has become whether self-service food markets are classified as vending, convenience stores, or employee break rooms. The majority of states and localities are treating self-service food markets as retail food establishments.

In Texas, Micro Markets have been branded as Self-Service Food Markets. They are typically unmanned stores that offer fresh foods, snacks, and beverages for purchasing via a self-checkout kiosk. As stated in the definition above, the foods sold may be either prepackaged non- time/temperature control for safety food (TCS) food or time/temperature control for safety food (TCS) food; however, the TCS foods must be stored in specialty equipment that prevents their sale if held in a malfunctioning machine due to a power failure or other condition (similar to a health switch on a vending machine). An example of such a market can be viewed on YouTube (Keyword: Micro Markets) 

A Self-Service Food Market is a self-checkout retail food establishment that replaces a bank of vending machines. In a self-service food market a customer picks up a product from an open rack display, a reach-in refrigerated cooler or freezer, and then scans the UPC bar code or an RFID tag for each product at a payment kiosk. The customer pays with a single payment, be it cash, credit card or stored value card. Another unique feature of the self-service food market is that it operates without an employee present, just like vending machines. All self-service food market are equipped with a 24 hour a day security system monitoring customers as they make their selections and checkout. Self-Service Food Markets are designed to be in “closed locations.” This refers to a business that has a moderately secured facility for a known group of employees where the self-service food market can be located in a designated area away from heavy public traffic.

Typically, a self-service food market is serviced on a pre-set schedule by a route driver. The route driver arrives at a location, checks the equipment to be sure it is working correctly, cleans the equipment on a set schedule, check products to be sure they are still “in date” and will be until the next service date, pulls any products that will be “out of date” and then stocks the product shelves and refrigerated and/or freezer units with new product. Through the use of on-line software, the route driver brings only what products are actually needed. The “out of date” products are returned to the warehouse for accountability and proper disposal at the end of day.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the definition of a Self-Service Food Market?

As defined in the 2015 Texas Food Establishment Rules (TFER):

(127) Self-Service Food Market--a market that is unstaffed and offers prepackaged non-time/temperature control for safety (TCS) food and prepackaged refrigerated or frozen time/temperature controlled for safety (TCS) food that is stored and displayed in equipment that complies with §228.225 of this title.

  1. Can a Self-Service Food Market sell cups of coffee?

No. A coffee vending machine can be located nearby for the convenience of consumers.

  1. Can Self-Service Food Markets sell fresh, whole intact produce such a bananas or grapes?

 Yes. The produce must be ready to eat, i.e., washed and pre-packaged for retail sale.

  1. Can my department charge a Self-Service Food Market a license fee?

Yes. All Self-Service Food Market are Retail Food Establishments. The regulatory jurisdictions should classify these operations as low risk operations.

  1. My health district has a Self-Service Food Market. Should I license it now?

The new TFER that addresses Self-Service Food Markets goes into effect on October 11, 2015. They should be licensed beginning immediately after the new rules take effect.

  1. Do Self-Service Food Markets have to undergo plan approval like other retail food establishments?

For jurisdictions that perform plan review, yes. Cold holding units containing TCS food, in Self-Service Food Markets are required to have an automatic shut off device or an approved plan by the regulatory authority to ensure food are protected from sale if there is a power failure, mechanical failure, or other condition. This is similar to the automatic shutoff requirement for vending machines with TCS foods. Currently, NSF is working with National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) to establish standards for approving cold holding equipment for self-service food markets. At this time there is no cold holding equipment that is approved for use in a self-service food market.

  1. Do Self-Service Food Markets need to have a person in charge?

Chapter 228.225(i) exempts Self-Service Food Markets from having a person in charge available during hours of operation when the market incorporates the provision in section      228.225 of the TFER.

  1. Does a Self-Service Food Market require a three compartment sink?

No. There is no preparation of food or a need to clean equipment and utensil on site so a three compartment sink is not required.

  1. Does a Self-Service Food Market require a conveniently located hand sink?

No. There is no preparation of food on site so a hand sink is not required.

  1. Since there is no person in charge, how will inspections be conducted or violations be addressed?

The self-service food market is required by §228.225(b)(2) to provide information to the regulatory authority as to the responsible party that will be available for routine inspections.

  1. Since there is no person in charge, who would I contact for comments and concerns?

The self-service food market is required by §228.225(h) to provide contact information about the business responsible for the market on a sign visible from the payment kiosk.

  1. How is food security ensured if there is no person in charge?

The self-service food market are required to provide 24/7 video surveillance records of consumers viewing, selecting, handling, and purchasing products that identify these customers. Video surveillance records must be maintained and available for the regulatory authority for a period of fourteen (14) calendar days.

  1. How are TCS foods monitored and handled to insure they maintain proper temperatures and are safe for human consumption?

The Self-Service Food Market shall have an automatic shut-off control or plan approved by the regulatory authority that prevents dispensing of foods that do not maintain proper temperatures.

  1. Are there any other requirements that ensure food security?

 Yes. §228.225(c)(2) require that all packaging of food in the self-service food market be tamper evident and they must also meet all labeling requirements for packaged food as specified in §228.62(a)(3) of this title.

Reference

National Automatic Merchandising Association. (2013, March 1). Technical Report. Micro Market - A New Innovation in Automatic Merchandising. Retrieved from http://www.vending.org/images/pdfs/micro-market/Tech_W7_bulletin_Micro_Market_v4.0.pdf

Last updated December 18, 2015