Friday, July 11, 2008

This article was sent to me this week, right in the middle of Stampede. Seems like a "part 2" to my last post!

Stampede food gets a bad grade
Provided by: Sun Media
Jun. 24, 2008

There's the Stampede's brand-spanking new casino -- and then there are the food vendors on the midway.

The connection? Both offer Stampede-goers a chance to test their luck.

In one case, gamblers may lose their money; in the other, there's the potential to lose their lunch.

A Public Health Inspection report posted online paints an unpalatable picture of food safety at last year's Stampede, suggesting those who ate at the fair in 2007 may have been gambling with a queasy gut.

It wasn't just the odd violation or two: The report, on the Calgary Health Region website, shows a whopping 97% of the food kiosks visited by local inspectors were cited for food health infractions.

The health region conducted a total of 606 inspections during the 2007 Stampede, with 589 infractions recorded.

Of those, 148 infractions were for food temperature violations and improper handling, both harbingers of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which can cause diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.

"Temperature is a pretty critical infraction," said Chad Beegan, the health region's co-ordinator of Environmental Health.

"If food is left out at improper temperatures, that's when pathogens can proliferate and make somebody sick."

In 119 cases, health inspectors recorded poor cleaning methods, involving dish washing and surface sanitizing.

Another 73 cases were connected to hand-washing, including lack of proper facilities, and 54 infractions were related to food storage.

The remainder of the infractions were for miscellaneous issues, with no specifics given.

The inspections, conducted by four full-time Public Health Inspectors and a team of helpers, resulted in one closure order and 16 cases of food being destroyed, after it was deemed a danger to the public.

The report sounds grim, but Stampede officials say the number of complaints from the public is actually a better reflection of how midway food is sitting with people who chose to eat there.

In 2007, only three public complaints were made to the Stampede: One for improper temperature, one for a stench near a food booth, and one for illness allegedly caused by a tainted corn dog.

Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser says three complaints out of 1.2-million visitors is an outstanding record.

"Three complaints is a better number to look at -- three complaints over 10 days is not bad," said Fraser.

But Fraser said the Stampede takes the health inspection report seriously, and is working with the Calgary Health Region to keep all food sold on the grounds safe.

"We take the safety and well-being of the public as a high priority," said Fraser.

"They could bump the number of inspections up to 1,000 and we would welcome that."

In 2006, 450 inspections were carried out and 250 infractions reportedly found.

The health region holds mandatory two-hour food safety seminars for Stampede workers each year, training nearly 1,400 people in 2007.

And this year, in a bid to reduce food-temperature infractions, the Stampede and CHR will require kiosks to fill out a temperature log, on which thermometer readings will be recorded every four hours.

"The high number of temperature infractions highlights the need for a new strategy," said Beegan.

He says the inspection report is posted as a service to Calgarians, and similar infractions can occur in restaurants throughout the city, not just at Stampede.

The important part, said Beegan, is ensuring mistakes are corrected.

"If there is any concern, our inspectors address them on site, and we work with the operators," said Beegan.

"We co-operate with them to correct the problem.

Despite his assurances of health inspectors keeping a close guard on public health, the real test is whether Beegan risks eating the midway food himself.

"Absolutely -- I can't get away from those corn dogs," he said.

So, with that in mind, which deep fried delicacy will you test your luck on?

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