Carbón Live Mexican Grill to skip Taste of Chicago following outbreak

Taste of Chicago, an outdoor festival featuring signature dishes from over 60 restaurants happens this weekend. In 2007, over 800 salmonellosis cases were linked to hummus from Pars Cove, one of the participating vendors.

After that outbreak, organizers stepped up their food safety game:Unknown-1

While any Chicago-based restaurant can apply to sell food at Taste of Chicago, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Restaurant Association consider restaurant applicants’ inspection history for the previous three years before allowing them to participate in Taste. No applicants with unresolved critical or serious violations at their business are accepted or allowed to serve food at Taste of Chicago.

Additionally, all menu items are carefully reviewed and approved by the Chicago Department of Public Health with the festival’s outside environment and temperature in mind.

Carbón Live Mexican Grill, has been linked to at least 25 pathogenic E. coli illnesses including 5 hospitalizations and will not participate in Taste of Chicago, according to Chicago Eater.

CBS Chicago spoke to a one of the hospitalized patients who told the station the she ate steak tacos.

The restaurant has a second location in West Town, which ABC Chicago reported has also been closed as a safety precaution.

Iowa Scarecrow Fest food safety

The Scarecrow Fest in Akron, Iowa, has one of the better names for the various fall festivals.

Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, of the Siouxland District Health told

Le Mars Daily Sentinel, "In Iowa for the most part, if you’re selling food, you have to have a license to do that.”

For short events like the Akron Scarecrow Festival, vendors can purchase a temporary food license. Vendors buy the licenses the day of the event if a district health representative is present to sell them.

They cost $33.50.

Rosendahl said the district health office doesn’t always know when food vendors are going to be at an event, and health officials request that event organizers notify them.

Glenn Eckert, an environmental specialist with Siouxland District Health said, "If we know there is a festival going on, we’ll stop in and check the vendors. There’s lots of things that go on during weekends in smaller towns we don’t even know about."

Things going on in small towns like in a David Lynch movie?

One of the biggest things district health officials see is food vendors that don’t have a place to wash hands right where they are working.

"If they have any kind of food or beverages that are not prepackaged, they would have to have a handwashing station," Rosendahl said. "It doesn’t have to be a sink with actual running water."

Using hand sanitizer is not enough to take the place of washing hands, Eckert said.

The district health website gives instructions as to how to set up a temporary handwashing station.

The health inspectors also will want to know where the food being sold came from.

"It has to come from a licensed or approved source. If they have meat we would look at if it’s inspected meat," Rosendahl said.

Inspectors also want to know where food was prepared.

"In this situation, it’s not allowed for food to be prepared at home and brought to a temporary food stand and sold, with a couple exception of some non-potentially-hazardous baked goods," Rosendahl said. "We don’t know what issues may be in the home. It’s not an inspected kitchen."

A non-profit organization can serve food one day per week on its premises without a temporary license.

That means, for example, at a church potluck, people can bring food prepared at home, and no temporary food license is needed.

New International Food Safety Network Infosheet — Food safety at festivals and fairs

It’s fair and festival season.  For the past 25 years, the last weekend of July has marked the Hillside Festival, a weekend-long outdoors concert at Guelph Lake.  I’ve never been.  I’ve had lots of friends attend and have often felt like I’ve missed out on hearing some great bands.  Part of the reason is that I’m not a huge camping fan; it always seems to rain when I camp.  And then I whine to whomever I’m camping with.

Prior to an ultimate frisbee game on Monday night, I was warming up with a friend who attended this year’s installment of Hillside.  As we jogged she told me all about the weekend: The bands were great, but the best part of the weekend was the food.  She described a set-up where many local restaurants have temporary booths and were serving up selections of their normal menus to the hungry concert-goers. 

This conversation made me think about last year’s Salmonella outbreak linked to the Taste of Chicago.  Temporary kitchens can be problematic for the staff who work in them when it comes to controlling food safety risks.  Equipment may not be readily available, line-ups add to the time pressure, spaces can be cramped and handwashing sinks might be hard to access (or even find).

Coupling my conversation with a link that Doug came across about fair food safety in Wisconsin led to today’s infosheet, which can be downloaded here.

After the infosheet was created, Doug sent on another link about a Shigella outbreak in Oregon — which has been linked to visiting the Oregon County fair.  Depending on the information that follows in the upcoming days, maybe next week’s infosheet with focus on that outbreak.