Food safety at temporary events and festivals costs money

We use festivals as great weekend diversions for the kids. Every week I check out the local events schedule and take the boys anywhere that’s got cool stuff to see or do (including bouncy houses, simulated toboggan hills or bug displays). Usually there are fundraiser booths with burgers or bbq sandwiches.

Sometimes they are run by professional folks. Other times it is a cadre of well-meaning amateur food handlers.______2632069_orig

A couple of years back some public health folks got in political trouble for tossing away a bunch of problematic high risk sandwiches at a Windsor, Ontario fundraiser. The organizers claimed foul about the public health folks were doing their job – keeping unsafe food off of plates. Politicians jumped in and turned it into a circus about regulating ‘blue-haired grandmas‘.

What was lost in all the rhetoric was that good jurisdictions have food safety standards for all food being sold, regardless of where the funds to to, and that health authorities have a duty to ensure that the rules are being followed.

And that costs money.

According to Holly Meyer of the Post-Crescent Media , between $7500 and $10k are spent annually by the Appleton (Wisconsin) Health Department on temporary events and festivals. 

The Appleton Health Department uses permits, training and inspections to ensure food stands are operating properly, said Kurt Eggebrecht, the department’s health officer. Those efforts cost both the vendors and the taxpayers thousands of dollars every fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

The food stand owners, like those who have to set up at the weekly Downtown Appleton Farm Market or annual Octoberfest, must apply for permits.

From July 1-31, the health department issued 83 permits, taking in $4,378. Eggebrecht said those numbers will jump in a couple of months because of Octoberfest.

The costs vary by permit, with nonprofit stands paying $30, temporary restaurants paying $123 and traveling retail stands paying $68.

The health department’s environmental staff also conducts inspections at the stands and spends time consulting and training with the vendors, Eggebrecht said. The department pays for the staff hours to perform the duties. They spent $10,406 in 2012-13, $7,480 in 2013-14 and $990 so far this year. (The totals exclude administrative, vehicle and fuel costs.)

Being a good community steward and passionate individual doesn’t make someone good at food safety. Investing resources into standards, verification and coaching certainly can help.

This entry was posted in Food Safety Culture, Food Safety Policy and tagged , , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

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.