Paying attention to risks at food festivals

I like rock and roll. I like ribs. Rock ‘n Ribs in Campbell Springfield, MO seems like a pretty great place to get your fingers sticky and listen to cover bands play songs from Sticky Fingers. Spring signifies the start of festival season, when tourism dollars pump into towns; the local kids will drink underage; and, hopefully no one gets sick from foodborne illness.

Festivals and temporary events have had their share of outbreaks in the past (Taste of Chicago in 2007, Folklorama in 2010 and numerous fundraisers and community dinners). Often there are folks at booths who are not full-time food handlers, dealing with lineups, makeshift heat sources and poor access to handwashing facilities.

These events need to have someone who is paying attention, inviting the health inspectors in to point out potential issues and have lots of portable restrooms/handwashing stations available for vendors and patrons.

As I told the venerable Portable Restroom Operator, the type of festival I want to go to as a patron is a place that doesn’t need to be regulated. They welcome inspectors as a second set of eyes but they should already have the mindset of ‘making 700 people sick would be bad for our festival’.

Rock ‘n Ribs sounds like they are paying attention.

In Ozarks First, Mike Brother of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department was cited as saying,  "We’re asking them to police themselves to work with the people doing the sampling to keep proper hygiene wash their hands and wear gloves."

"These kind of events these sampling events we can’t bring an inspector out to inspect all 50 or 60 or 100 of the booths out here giving samples," said Brothers.

Jim McLeod of Southwest Rotary says they’ve been in the competition for 12 years and always make sure they’re handing out safe food.
"Every time we get into the food we’ll wear gloves when we touch it we got the restaurant inspector out here just like anywhere else and we’re doing the same thing as restaurants," said McLeod.

Long live rock and roll. And ribs.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.