Balance concession food safety, needs of boosters

Whether it’s called a fundraiser, a BBQ, or, in Australia, a sausage sizzle, what is the best way to balance the wishes of well-meaning volunteers with the realities of microbial food safety?

bbq.bse.cross.contaminationWith five daughters, I’ve been to hundreds of these things over the years and seen some terrible food safety practices, even at swanky corporate events.  Whenever I can, I volunteer to help with the cooking and pre-planning. But I’m not going to have much impact, one sausage sizzle at a time. And if I mention anything, other parents get defensive and think I’m an asshole (they may be right).

Michigan’s Lansing State Journal has some decent recommendations, writing that curtailing concessions likely means reducing revenue that boosters raise to help defray costs of equipment, uniforms and, in some cases, pay-to-participate fees for needy students. Yet, how could anyone support looking the other way if food isn’t being handled and prepared safely?

Ingham County officials acknowledged in a recent LSJ report that they had been lenient in enforcing safe food handling requirements at school athletic concessions.

Yet while improving enforcement, they observed such unsafe practices as not tracking the freshness date on raw ground beef. They found well-meaning boosters were cooking food such as chili at home and bringing it to athletic venues for sale. They found food being prepared in locations with no hand-washing equipment, even though portable sinks exist for just such circumstances.

thermometer.powell.bbq.dec.11Cracking down on volunteers who are trying to support student activities may seem harsh, but basic food safety measures such as hand-washing rules and keeping both raw and cooked foods at safe temperatures simply must be followed. For the sake of public health, these things can’t be optional.

Booster groups are volunteer efforts, but don’t face more demanding responsibilities. County officials began requiring licensing on May 1. Those who aren’t licensed can use pre-packaged items. That’s reasonable.

Booster concessions are an effective source of revenue. In some districts, $20,000 or more worth of food and drinks are sold each year.

In Australia, Food Safety Standards include requirements for the handling, storage, transport and display of food. The Standards are in the process of being adopted by each State and Territory and, when adopted, will specify requirements that are consistent across Australia for the first time. A copy of the Food Safety Standards is available from the FSANZ website at and may also be available from local council or health authority.

This definition of a food business includes all food activities involved in fundraising, including preparation of the food before it is sold. The definition of  sale covers fundraising activities. Food has been sold even if you just ask for a donation.

Good intentions and safety can co-exist.

MMWR: Pulled pork linked to 2010 Ohio church festival outbreak

Community dinners can be great fundraisers but are often held at temporary sites and staffed by volunteers unfamiliar with safe food handling practices for large meals.

Or folks who make pulled pork at home, potentially contaminate it, transport it and can’t recollect how the food was reheated at the serving site.plenty_of_cheer_at_church_dinner_2082983728-300x189

CDC reports the latter situation in this week’s MMWR:

Outbreak of Salmonellosis Associated with Consumption of Pulled Pork at a Church Festival — Hamilton County, Ohio, 2010

On June 18, 2010, Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH), a local health department in Ohio, began receiving reports of gastrointestinal illness from persons who attended a church festival held during June 11–13 in a suburban community of Hamilton County. HCPH investigated and confirmed the existence of a foodborne outbreak associated with consumption of pulled pork prepared in a private home and sold at the church festival. Sixty-four attendees with gastroenteritis were identified. Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium (Salmonella Typhimurium) was found in stool specimens from three patients; no other pathogen was found. Because the outbreak was identified after the church festival had concluded, the environmental investigation was limited to interviews of food handlers. The primary public health interventions consisted of 1) active surveillance for additional cases of salmonellosis associated with the festival, 2) consultation with the festival organizers and food vendors to ensure the pork product was not resold or consumed elsewhere, 3) education of the festival organizers and food vendors about relevant public health regulations and food safety practices, 4) traceback of the implicated product to the retailer in Indiana, and 5) notification of the Indiana State Department of Health. The results of the investigation call attention to the public health implications of unregulated food service at events such as church festivals, which generally are exempt from public health inspection and licensure in Ohio. Food sold in such environments might place populations at risk for foodborne illness.

And the telling paragraph:

To assess environmental factors that might have contributed to the outbreak, the pulled pork vendor was interviewed and revealed that the pork was prepared in a private home. The vendor reported that the pulled pork was cooked to an internal temperature of approximately 180°F (82°C), subsequently cooled in pans in a residential-style (i.e., noncommercial) refrigerator, and then reheated at the church festival. The refrigerator internal temperature was said to have been below 41°F (5°C) during cooling, but the vendors were unable to report the time it took for the cooked product to reach a uniform temperature of ≤41°F (≤5°C). The time and temperature parameters of the reheating process also were unknown. After the interviews with the implicated food vendor and discussions with the festival coordinator, it was determined that this vendor’s operation would have been subject to the food service licensing requirements specified by the Ohio Revised Code. Although the vendor was operating at the church festival, the management of the vendor’s proceeds precluded an exemption under Ohio Revised Code. The vendor and festival coordinator were informed of the relevant public health regulations and the associated food safety practices. HCPH used this experience to initiate the development of new outreach and education materials designed specifically to address food safety regulations and concerns related to events and venues, such as church festivals, that are generally exempt from food service licensure and inspection in the state of Ohio.

Community dinners, the fellowship-fostering events often organized by churches are a nostalgic link to the past when a congregation would financially support members’ activities through chili, pancakes or barbecue. They also, according to CDC’s Rob Tauxe, have created some of the easily traced foodborne illness outbreaks.

6 confirmed sick with Salmonella linked to bean fundraiser in Alabama, dozens ill

At least six cases of Salmonella have been confirmed in Limestone County, Alabama, and officials believe those who fell ill may have contracted it at an annual bean dinner fundraiser held Friday in Athens.

Kelli Powers, chief executive officer of Athens-Limestone Hospital said, athens.alabama.salm.bean.oct.13“We have seen dozens of people Saturday, Sunday and today with mainly diarrhea but also vomiting and nausea,” Powers said. “There are about 24 people in our waiting room right now who have been waiting about an hour with symptoms.” 

Charity pig roast connected to Salmonella outbreak, possibly

In the ongoing war between food businesses/events and epidemiologists, a battle over what caused 14 cases of salmonellosis in Devon (UK) has spilled into the BBC. A cluster of 14 Salmonella illnesses popped up back in April; 12 of the 14 attended and ate pork at charity hog roast. a fundraiser for the Hope Cove Life Boat. The even was put on to support the seaside village’s emergency rescue vehicle.

Graham Phillips, chairman of the lifeboat committee, said: "We are sympathetic to people that were ill but we are confident we took every step possible to make sure the catering met health regulations.

"We would not set out to cause harm to people and we have bent over backwards to help the HPA in its investigation."

The HPA started an investigation after a number of complaints of food poisoning from people who said they had eaten from the hog roast.
But the HPA said there was no food left over from the event available for testing.
It concluded: "It is not possible to confirm the source of the outbreak although the hog roast is the main link we identified between the cases."

A spokesman for South Hams District Council said the complaints had been "fully investigated" but it had decided there was not enough evidence to link the roast with the poisoning "beyond reasonable doubt."He said: "The key element for a successful prosecution would have been to confirm the strain of salmonella from the carcass of the roast pig, and then test victims to confirm it was of the same strain.

"However this was not possible because there was nothing left of the pig."
I can’t seem to find a report online with odds ratios but there often isn’t much food left to test in an outbreak. But we still trust the epidemiologists and the data they produce. Not many outbreaks would be solved if the strain had to be found in the food.

Lots of community dinners and charity events have been the source of a foodborne illnesses (here’s an infosheet). As Rob Tauxe said in an article about new trends in foodborne pathogens, have created some of the easily traced foodborne illness outbreaks:

The traditional foodborne outbreak scenario often follows a church supper, family picnic, wedding reception, or other social event. This scenario involves an acute and highly local outbreak, with a high inoculum dose and a high attack rate. The outbreak is typically immediately apparent to those in the local group, who promptly involve medical and public health authorities. The investigation identifies a food-handling error in a small kitchen that occurs shortly before consumption. The solution is also local.

Part of the local solution is having volunteer food handlers trained to look for risks and reduce them.

Norovirus sickens dozens at Fort Myers fundraiser

The Lee County Health Department has concluded that norovirus caused dozens of people to fall ill earlier this month at a Lee County Public Schools fundraiser.

But it will likely be up to a week before the department concludes how it was spread, aid Robert South, department epidemiologist.

About 200 people attended the 15th Annual Take Stock in Children Holiday Auction on Nov. 4 at Paseo Village Center.

Shortly thereafter, attendees reported a number of ailments, including nausea and diarrhea.

The department still does not know if the virus spread was the result of food poisoning or improper food handling.

Minn. investigating foodborne outbreak at fundraiser

The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating a report that people got sick from eating the food at a fundraiser held at a church.

The banquet took place Sunday at the Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter, Minn. The problem was reported Thursday.

The event was a benefit for New Pathways of Brainerd, a group that helps homeless families with children find safe transitional shelter.

The fundraiser was catered by Baxter’s Prairie Bay Restaurant, according to the MDH.

Investigators believe about 275 people were at the event, but it isn’t yet clear how many were exposed or how many became ill. Early signs point to a norovirus as a cause, but that has not been confirmed.

11 hospitalized, 125 sick from South Carolina fundraiser

At least four more people who ate food sold last week at a fundraiser at a Conway church have been hospitalized as of today, said Jim Beasley, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

A total of 11 people have been hospitalized, and DHEC officials believe there are about 125 people who sought physician care for gastro-intestinal illness symptoms in the area, Beasley said.

Conway Medical Center performed tests on three samples from patients and it appears that salmonella is expected, Beasley said.

People started becoming ill with symptoms such as abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, after buying and eating food sold at the Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Conway to raise money to benefit the family of an ill child, said Dr. Covia L. Stanley, director of DHEC’s Region 6 public health office, which serves Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties, said in a news release Tuesday.

The meals, which included barbecue pork, baked sweet potatoes, cole slaw and rolls, were prepared at a local hunting club, Stanley said.

DHEC officials are asking that anyone who purchased any of the roughly 1,450 plates of food sold at the fundraiser to throw leftovers away and to contact their private healthcare physician if they are experiencing any symptoms.