/Food inspections mark start of State Fair

Food inspections mark start of State Fair

Hoping to capitalize on this traffic, food vendors are flooding the fairgrounds offering everything from classic corn dogs to the more obscure fried alligator-on-a-stick. Food safety is a constant concern as so many foods are prepared outside of brick-and-mortar restaurants. In anticipation of concerns, the Mississippi Department of Health held a press conference to answer any questions about food booth inspections. It also showed how vendors are inspected. Anne Hogue, acting Environmentalist for the Health Department, stated that most vendors have been attending the State Fair for many years and are familiar with what the Health Department expects. While some vendors may be unfamiliar with what to expect, it is a learning opportunity for them. That can be a good thing. They come in knowing that we mean business. The Mississippi Food Code follows national standards for food safety established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with additional state regulations. Vendor expectations are fairly similar because there isn’t much variation in regulations between states. Hogue stated that vendors only need a small amount of training, even though there are always complaints. Online applications are required for food facility permits to allow caterers and restaurants to sell food at the fair. The applicants must submit a floor plan, a menu and a copy their food manager certificate. There is a $195 fee for plan review and the application can take up 30 days. After the application is approved, the additional fee for the food permit can be added. This cost will vary depending on the vendor’s food risk level. It can range between $34.50 and $230. Food providers are inspected by the Health department up to four times per year. The vendor’s foodborne illness risk level determines how many inspections are conducted. Low risk facilities would only sell food that is low-risk of contamination, usually prepackaged and ready for consumption. High risk facilities can sell large quantities of food and multiple processing steps such as cooling, heating, and reheating. Every complaint against a vendor will be followed up with an inspection and training request. In some cases enforcement actions may also be taken. One of the vendors at this years fair is Jack Beasley from Funny Face Foods. He stated that everyone must meet these standards but some vendors are doing more than others. Beasley stated that there are many non-permanent food vendors who come to the Mississippi State Fair. “They’re not self contained because they don’t have walls and floors.” Beasley stated that many vendors sell food from tents. Beasley stated that “essentially half of the vendors out there want it done properly and get self contained units.” Self-contained units are often a quarter million dollars. It is unfair that people can do things correctly and operate in all 50 state codes. Then someone is allowed in with a tent — not floor, not sides. This year there were very few food vendors operating in tents, and no one was available to comment. Beasley stated, “When I see someone in the tent next to me I can’t understand how that qualifies to local standards.” Hogue stated that the Health Department expects fair vendors tents to have the same facilities as restaurants. They must have a three-compartment sink, a hand washing laboratory, the ability of sanitizing, and a food inspection sticker.