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State Fair food: still pretty safe

MinnPost examined the health inspection reports from the 2019 Great Minnesota Get Together.

Minnesota Department of Health
Every year, the Minnesota Department of Health sends inspectors out to check every food stand at the Fair.
Last month, we brought you news that despite all the grease and heat, the food at the Minnesota State Fair is pretty sanitary, something we learned after poring over food inspection reports from 2018.

What about this year’s fair fare?

This week, MinnPost read nearly 240 newly-available food inspection reports from the 2019 State Fair to find, once again, that you’re more likely to get sick from petting the animals at the Fair than you are from the food.

Food inspections

Every year, the Minnesota Department of Health sends inspectors out to check every food stand at the Fair, except the ones that sell manufactured, pre-packaged or baked goods, which are under the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction.

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Inspectors assign the most critical food safety violations a priority 1. Transgressions of medium import are given a priority 2 designation, while less important infractions are priority 3. When a stand has serious violations, inspectors follow up.

For the most part, vendors work cooperatively with health inspectors, Wendy Spanier, a field operations supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Health’s food, pools and lodging services division, told MinnPost in August.

“They’re used to getting inspected. They know our inspectors and they want to have safe food as much as we do,” she said.

In Spanier’s three decades at MDH, she said there she can’t recall a foodborne illness outbreak at the fair.

Report highlights

That’s not to say we didn’t find anything in the reports. While about 40 percent of stands had no health code violations upon initial inspection (slightly less than last year), roughly a quarter had one or more priority 1 violation — often, hot food wasn’t kept warm enough or cold food wasn’t cold enough; logs of any employee illness weren’t available to inspectors; or employees handled food with their bare hands.

Recurring priority 2 violations included not having handwashing sinks in the right spots and needing test strips for sanitizers.

Priority 3 violations often included needing a staff member to be food safety certified or chlorine levels for sanitizing  solutions that weren’t right. About half the stands with any violations had only priority 3 violations.

Six percent of stands got follow-up visits.

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There were no reports of rodents or too-warm ceviche like we found last year, but we did find a couple interesting things:

The log rolling pool run by Key Log Rolling (we’d better mention MDH also inspects pools), was found to have high chlorine levels. It was fixed almost immediately, according to a follow-up report.

Abby Delaney, the company’s president, said the logrolling pool has a filter for a full-size pool, which cleans the water and chlorinates it.

“It’s an 18-foot diameter, 2.5 foot (deep) pool, so it’s way overkill for what we have,” she said. Considering all the sweat and corn dog grease at the fair, she said, “the water is crystal clear.”

And here’s a free startup idea for someone: power drills that are food safe. Last year, inspectors found a vendor using a power drill to mix corn dog batter. They were told to stop using the drill because it wasn’t an approved food-safe device.

This year, Lucy’s Cheese Curds, a vendor located outside the State Fair gates, was using a cordless drill to bore holes in potatoes, according to inspectors. Because the drill wasn’t approved for food use, they were issued a priority 3 violation and asked to stop using the drill.

“Remove all multi-use equipment, utensils, and food storage containers that are not durable, corrosion-resistant, nonabsorbent, smooth, easily cleanable, resistant to pitting, chipping, scratching or not able to withstand repeated warewashing,” the report reads.

MinnPost called the owners of Lucy’s and asked what they were making with the holed-out potatoes, but had not received a response as of press time.