When you're at the state fair, beware of the fare

Consumer Reports News: July 14, 2011 05:02 PM

It's state fair season so what better time to partake of chicken fried bacon (Texas), hot beef sundaes (Iowa), Krispy Kreme chicken sandwiches (California) or any kind of deep-fried food on a stick. Follow that with a ride on the Crazy Shake and you might feel a little queasy. But there's something that can make you sicker—a case of summer food poisoning.

Food poisoning peaks in the summer when conditions are ripe for bacteria growth and when folks are eating outdoors without the the usual safety controls that a kitchen provides, says the Centers for Disease Control. Vendors serving food at a fair or festival should follow the same safety practices as you would at home—keep hot food hot and cold food cold and don't cross-contaminate foods by reusing dishes and utensils. Most importantly, wash your hands.

Vendor offenders. If you are eying that deep fried Twinkie or the spaghetti and meatball on a stick, the CDC says consider these things first:

  • Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
  • Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash their hands?
  • Do the employees wear gloves or use tongs when handling food?
  • Does the vendor have refrigeration on site for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
  • Has the vendor been inspected? Requirements vary by state, but in general temporary and mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county.

Handy tips. To prepare for a day at the fair, bring along hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren't any places to wash your hands. While at the fair follow these practices:

  • Find out where hand washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosure, and exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal.
  • Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, after changing diapers, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.

If you're unfortunate enough to get sick, report it to your local health department, even if it's after you've recovered. Calls from concerned citizens are often how outbreaks of foodborne illness are first detected, says the CDC.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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