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Food safety at local events

Have you ever wondered what precautions are in place at temporary events?

As you wander around some cultural collection of culinary cuisine (yes that means absolutely nothing, it just has alliteration value), do you ever wonder if the catch of the day is likely to be salmonella?

Or as keen parents try to part your last dollar in the fund raiser for the Obese Brats Beneficiary, do you ever wonder if they even know how to wash their hands, let alone where they would?

And what about all these cottage industries that are popping up all over the place, selling everything from pickled possums (“Preserve Australian wildlife – pickle a possum today”) through to vegemite infused coffee (organic, of course)?

It turns out that these are valid questions

At this month’s NSW EHA conference I heard some great talks about the fringe of council responsibilities. It turns out that just because someone could be giving you food poisoning, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily regulated.

And if they are regulated, it doesn’t meant that they are policed.

And if they are policed, it doesn’t mean that they can’t slip between the cracks.

Here’s what I mean…

What happens at temporary events?

Councils are responsible for managing safety at temporary events. Just a simple question – what is a temporary event?

From the council’s perspective it excludes events on state and federal owned land. This means that all those events on school grounds are out, as well as in state and national parks.

For council, it comes down to what is community land, and the town centre may not be classed as community land.

But once it is deemed to be a council regulated temporary event, then the council can step in and specify some great food safety requirements including:

  • the use of refrigerators or coolrooms
  • the use of temperature loggers
  • attendance at council run food safety training
  • drinks not to be stored in food coolroom
  • blacklisting certain operators due to poor

Contact Lisa Hughes at GFK Consulting for more information on temporary events.

What about markets and home businesses?

Then the focus shifted to the small operators.

Community markets have always been with us. As consumers we love them. They provide a far wider range of products than you could ever find in a supermarket. They are often less processed and more authentic. There are products that you can only get at the markets.

What is new, however, are the new opportunities that are popping up thanks to the Internet. One example discussed was a home cooked service where you can order online.

Traditionally both of these market segments were largely ignored by council inspectors. The reasons for ignoring it are reasonably understandable:

  • They pop-up and disappear rapidly – many just around for a weekend
  • They aren’t making enough money to invest in food safety training, products and processes
  • The risk to the public is very small because of the limited number of customers and small production quantities
  • There are so many of them and councils don’t have the resources to inspect them

The problem, however, is that restaurants and cafes are having to really lift their game and that’s a financial burden. At the same time some of these home businesses are growing in size. Where do you draw the line between a home business and a commercial business?

At the same time if there is an explosion in the number of providers then will we see the “uber of catering” where the established businesses will be put out of business by the casual majority?

And will we see all the advances in food safety eroded away?

So what are councils doing about it?

There are some councils that are now becoming quite proactive about these problems. At this stage much of it is about educating and assisting people, rather than policing and enforcing.

It would be great if something like “Scores on Doors” applied to these businesses.

I’m dreaming, of course. Nothing will happen until someone dies.

I just hope it’s not me.

And you, of course!

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