Employee & Community Health

4 tips for safely enjoying fun foods at fairs, festivals

6/30/2016 by Dr. Jill Huber

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Food is a big part of the fun at fairs, festivals, rodeos, carnivals and other summertime events. But with this summer fun, comes the increased risk of food-borne illnesses. Why? Sometimes the usual safety controls that a kitchen provides, like monitoring food temperatures, refrigeration, workers trained in food safety and washing facilities, may not be available when cooking and dining at fairs and festivals. 

So follow these four tips to safely enjoy the fun foods of summer: 

  • When buying food from a vendor, watch how food is being prepared and handled. Is their work station clean and tidy? Is there a sink for employees to wash their hands? Do they wear gloves or use tongs when handling food? Is there a refrigerator for keeping raw ingredients or prepared foods cold? Has the vendor been inspected? Although it varies by state, most temporary or mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license. 
  • Choose healthy food alternatives first. If they're not available, consider bringing your own food to save money and calories without sacrificing the festival atmosphere. When packing your snacks, remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Put perishable items in a cooler or insulated bag. 
  • If you're picnicking at the event, don't let food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day, 90°F or higher, food shouldn't sit out for more than one hour. 
  • Wash your hands often! Wash them with soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds. Locate the hand-washing stations at the event, but bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren't any places to wash. Always wash your hands: 
    • After petting animals. Even if you didn't pet one, wash your hands since you may have touched the enclosure. 
    • After using the restroom, playing a game or going on a ride. 
    • Before eating and drinking, preparing foods or drinks. 
    • After changing diapers or removing soiled clothes or shoes. 

If you think you've picked up a food-borne illness, report it to your local health department, even if you've already recovered. The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often, outbreaks are detected because people call in to report they've been ill. If a public health official contacts you to find out more about an illness you had or one that took place at an event you attended, your help is valuable and may be needed, even if you aren't sick. 

Dr. Jill Huber is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM).