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.

New Zealand council alarm at food stall risk

Food stalls at the Chinese Lantern Festival, Pasifika, Diwali and other major events will be nearly unregulated for food safety under a major law reform, says Auckland Council, which is concerned about the potential for large-scale food poisoning.

Council officials say legislation before Parliament which introduces new food safety regulations would exempt small vendors serving tens of of meals at large events.

They made the comments as submissions resumed on the long-awaited Food Bill, which was first introduced to Parliament in 2010.

The bill stalled amid speculation that it would put an end to sausage sizzles and cake stalls, introduce crippling costs for small horticultural producers, and give multinational corporations more control over New Zealand’s food sources.

The Government amended the bill in 2012 to address some of these problems and ensure that small-scale sellers such as farmers’ markets and fundraising stalls would not be captured by the law change.

Auckland Council said it supported most of the changes, but it was worried small vendors would be exempted from controls on food safety at large events such as the Chinese Lantern Festival, attended by more than 100,000 people.

Environmental health team leader Alan Ahmu told a select committee yesterday that officials were not concerned about school fairs or fund-raisers.

Wait, what? Little kids are one of the more vulnerable populations for foodborne illness.

I spent 16 hours this weekend becoming a level 1 coach for ice hockey in Australia, building on the 32 or so hours in Canada, at least 5 years behind the bench, and decades of experience, all because parents expect the best for their kids.

So why wouldn’t they expect the best for their kids at school?

Instead of moaning about why certain groups or people should be exempt from food safety rules, make it mandatory, and figure out the best way to folklorama.infosheet.10provide information to people (hint – it won’t be found in government).

If a minimal level of competency is required to coach hockey, a minimal level of competency should be required to make food for other people.

Investigating the potential benefits of on-site food safety training for Folklorama, a temporary food service event

Mancini, Roberto1; Murray, Leigh2; Chapman, Benjamin J.3; Powell, Douglas A.4

Source: Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 75, Number 10, October 2012 , pp. 1829-1834(6)


Folklorama in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, is a 14-day temporary food service event that explores the many different cultural realms of food, food preparation, and entertainment. In 2010, the Russian pavilion at Folklorama was implicated in a foodborne outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 that caused 37 illnesses and 18 hospitalizations. The ethnic nature and diversity of foods prepared within each pavilion presents a unique problem for food inspectors, as each culture prepares food in their own very unique way. The Manitoba Department of Health and Folklorama Board of Directors realized a need to implement a food safety information delivery program that would be more effective than a 2-h food safety course delivered via PowerPoint slides. The food operators and event coordinators of five randomly chosen pavilions selling potentially hazardous food were trained on-site, in their work environment, focusing on critical control points specific to their menu. A control group (five pavilions) did not receive on-site food safety training and were assessed concurrently. Public health inspections for all 10 pavilions were performed by Certified Public Health Inspectors employed with Manitoba Health. Critical infractions were assessed by means of standardized food protection inspection reports. The results suggest no statistically significant difference in food inspection scores between the trained and control groups. However, it was found that inspection report results increased for both the control and trained groups from the first inspection to the second, implying that public health inspections are necessary in correcting unsafe food safety practices. The results further show that in this case, the 2-h food safety course delivered via slides was sufficient to pass public health inspections. Further evaluations of alternative food safety training approaches are warranted.