Ah, funnel cake. Deep-fried candy bars. Deep-fried butter! Corn dogs and hot dogs and chili dogs – oh, my! Yes, of course, we all know better than to indulge in these treats. We stick to our relentless organic, locally sourced fruits-and-vegetables-galore regimen, but…let’s be honest: what is spring or summer without fair food, street snacks, ball park goodies or the other forbidden carnival delights? Come on – you gotta live a little, right?
Right. So let’s set out some parameters. Many foodborne illnesses are caused, obviously, by eating or drinking something contaminated with germs. Nothing ruins a great day out quite so quickly (or horribly) as does food poisoning. Our emergency departments see far more food-related illnesses in warm weather because we are cooking and eating outside, at concerts and block parties and sports events. Simply eating outdoors is not the trouble. The problems start when the usual safety controls that a decent kitchen provides are not available, things like proper refrigeration, washing facilities and thermostat-controlled cooking.
You know the food safety drill: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. Is there a way to apply this drill to any food vendors you might buy from?
Here are some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Before buying food from a vendor, consider the following:
- Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
- Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash up? Are they using it?
- Do all employees wear gloves and/or use tongs when handling food?
- Does the vendor have an on-site refrigerator for storing raw ingredients or any pre-cooked foods?
- Has the vendor been inspected? Is the inspection certificate clearly displayed? Requirements vary by state, but generally, all temporary and mobile vendors, including those at fairs and carnivals, must be licensed to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county. The local health department may be able to help you ascertain which vendors are licensed and if (and when) a food inspection has been completed.
What other steps can you take to protect yourself and your loved ones?
Wash Hands Often!
- Find out where hand washing facilities or stations are located.
- Be sure always to wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosures, and leaving animal areas, even if you did not pet or touch any of the animals.
- Of course, always wash up after using the bathroom, after playing any games or going on rides, before preparing, serving or eating any foods or drinks, after changing diapers and after removing soiled shoes or clothes.
- Just in case you can’t find any place to wash your hands, bring along hand sanitizers or disposable wipes.
- Wash up thoroughly and carefully each time, including scrubbing between your fingers – and wash your wrists, too.
It is important to contact your local health department any time you suspect you or someone in your family may have picked up a foodborne illness – even if you do this after you’ve recovered. The CDC reports that contamination outbreaks are often discovered just this way, from concerned citizens calling in to relate an incident. Our local public health departments are an important part of the food safety system and they need both our input and our cooperation. This is not nanny state stuff, by the way — just common sense and consideration for others.
If you are part of a community-based organization that sets up booths to sell snacks and drinks at local events, be sure someone on the team is trained in food safety. And be sure that person is part of the planning process and is also on hand when the food is actually cooked and/or served.
Should you take home any goodies from a fair or festival, follow safe food handling and storage guidelines. Do not let food sit out for more than two hours — and in very hot weather (90 degrees F or higher), no more than one hour. Store any perishables in an insulated bag or cooler.
Now – on to that second round of spicy curly fries with extra melted cheese and bacon!