Food Safety at Fairs and Festivals

As we flip the calendar page to July, a growing number of local fairs and festivals await us. Who can resist a funnel cake, fresh squeezed lemonade, or those fabulous fair fries? In my mind, I have this picturesque image of carefree summer days and evenings spent taking in the sites, sounds, Ferris Wheeland tastes of the fair. I also have not so picturesque images of my husband getting a food borne illness after taking in some mishandled fair food. He now takes my advice when deciding which food vendors to patronize! Below are a few tips that can keep you and your family food safe at fairs and festivals as well:

  1. Wash your hands with comfortably hot, soapy water prior to eating. I have been to enough fairs and festivals to know that restrooms and self-standing hand washing stations are in short supply at times. At the very least, carry your own hand sanitizer or utilize a hand sanitizer station. Keep in mind that hand sanitizer must air dry in order for it to be effective – no wiping hands wet with hand sanitizer on pants, shirts, or napkins as these actions can actually contaminate your hands further. Hand washing is particularly important after touching animals and/or visiting the barn areas.
  2. Take time to scope out food vendors using good food safety practices such as the following:
    1. They have a current food safety license. All vendors at festivals and fairs should be inspected at some point during the event, ideally at the beginning.
    2. Their trailer, booth, or food truck looks reasonably clean and in order. You know from preparing food at home that it can be a messy process! Expect that vendors may have items they are preparing out and on counters, particularly during busy periods. However, visible “yuck” on counters, spills that have been left on the floor, and grease build up may be signs of a poor cleaning program.
    3. They wear gloves or use a barrier (such as tongs, utensils, napkins, or deli papers) when touching ready to eat food. Ready to eat food includes any prepared/cooked items that you will be eating (i.e. your prepared funnel cake or hamburger) as well as any fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, or dairy products. Note that in most jurisdictions, glove use is not required when handling foods that will receive further cooking (i.e. the person preparing your pizza crust that will be going into the wood fired oven).
    4. They use a food thermometer to check the doneness of chicken, meat products (including hamburgers and sausages), and monitor foods they are holding (such as grilled vegetables stacked and moved aside for Italian sandwiches).
    5. They keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot prepared items are in roasters, warming units, or temperature controlled display units (i.e. hot dogs on a revolving hot dog cooker). Cold foods, such as catchup, mustard, onions, relish, and other self-serve condiment items are on ice, in a cooler, or in a temperature controlled holding unit.
    6. They practice division of tasks. In other words, the person taking the money is not same person putting your hot dog on the bun. Money is very dirty and contaminates the hands. If the person handling the money is also handing you your food, there should be a barrier between their hands and your food, such as a wrapper, plate, or container.
    7. You observe them washing their hands and work surfaces. All food service operations are required to have a hand washing station, whether the establishment is working out of a permanent building or a food stand brought in special for the event. When I observe food vendors taking the time to wash their hands and clean their counters between tasks, I know they are committed to food safety.
  3. Do not share food and beverages. I know sampling from those in your group can be fun, but even during the summer people carry bacteria and viruses that can be transferred through straws, utensils, and containers (i.e. drinking from the same water bottle).

The list may seem lengthy, but many of these suggestions can be quickly observed and practiced. So as you head out to the summer fairs and festivals, may you take in only the sights, sounds, and delicious fair fries, and not the foodborne illness!
Written by: Christine Kendle, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Tuscarawas County

Reviewed by: Melinda Hill, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Wayne County

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