Making food at the Minnesota State Fair safe

4:05 PM, Aug 23, 2011   |    comments
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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - As the beginning of the Great Minnesota Get-Together draws near, many fairgoers are creating lists in their heads of what fair foods they're going to eat.

But when you think of the variety and quantity of food prepared, you may wonder what is done to make sure that it's safe.

Food is what the Minnesota State Fair is all about.  Because of that the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) sends out 12 food inspectors during the first two days of the fair and then continues to inspect food vendors throughout the fair's run.

Food inspector Peggy Spadafore was already inspecting food vendors on the fairgrounds on Tuesday, those vendors that open early to feed the people setting up the fair.

She said MDH inspects 245 food vendors that prepare food.  The Minnesota Department of Agriculture inspects another 100-plus vendors, which sell simpler foods like bakery items, candy or pop.

Spadafore said, "We look for good hand washing we look for how people are handling food," and "We want the cold food kept cold and the hot food kept hot."

The first place she visited Tuesday was The Lunch Box.  Lee Bahr and his family have owned it for 48 years. 

Bahr said, "We clean the place up spic and span we like to have it like we have our own home."

He said he appreciates food inspections, "I think they're a very good idea because when we first started out here they didn't have that program and there were places that served food and people did get sick in the early days of us being out here."

But since then, he said he hasn't heard of any illness from fair food in the past 15 to 20 years.

Spadafor also inspected Giggles' Campfire Grill where the inspection was more complex because they handle fresh fish. 

Owner Tim "Giggles" Weiss said he wants to do everything right, "We have 12 days to make money, we have a very large investment here."

Weiss said he has quickly corrected things the inspectors have pointed out in the past, like workers leaving personal beverages out without a cap.

Holding up a new cup with a lid he said, "That's a health hazard so we went to the dollar store we got cups with tops and everybody will have a nice little sticker with their name on it."

Fairgoers may notice how workers handle food.  Spadafore said some complain when they don't see workers wearing gloves. "What we want to avoid is having bare hand contact with ready to eat foods," she said.

Spadafore said gloves aren't always needed.  She said, "They need to have either a glove on or they need to use a tong or a scoop or a spoon or a tissue to separate their hand from the bare food."

She says if a violation is found, MDH works with the vendors to quickly correct it.  She can't recall any vendor ever being shut down.

Spadafore, who conducts inspections of restaurants year-round, said the percentage of violations at the fair is actually much smaller than in the restaurant industry as a whole

She said, "The vendors that are here they do really an exceptional job.  This is really an important event for them. 

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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