Valley food vendors face tougher enforcement

A new health inspector is being strict with rules, resulting in less vendors at event

There are rules for food vending in the valley, and regulations in place by Health Protection — a body of Interior Health (IH) — are being enforced now more than ever since a new environmental health officer came on the local food scene last fall.

Largely because of red tape, the Spilli Chilli cook-off inSpillimacheen saw only two participants enter the event earlier this year.

“Regulations in place were difficult to understand and scared a lot of Spilli Chilli vendors off,” co-organizer Morley Winnick told The Echo. “Those regulations have always been there for mass gatherings, but they have never been enforced before.”

Leading up to the 2014 cook-off, Mr. Winnick says he’ll be working with the IH health officer to simplify the application process for vendors and there will definitely be more vendors at next year’s event.

“She (the officer) worked very hard with us to make sure everything was okay,” he said.

New enforcement of the old regulations also means that the baking and canning categories at the annual Fall Fair and Scarecrow Festival in Windermere have been cancelled. In the past, contestants would bake and can their finest edibles, and have the public test the goods.

“Baking and canning are for public consumption, but aren’t prepared in an approved kitchen,” said Pat van Regen, chair of the Scarecrow Festival. And now she’s wondering how they’ll be grilling at the event.

“I can’t figure out how we’re going to sell hot dogs — how do you put a barbecue inside a three-sided structure?”

But with about 2,000 people attending, she doesn’t want any unsafe food, and says the Scarecrow festival will be operating by the guidelines.

“There might not be as many things and we have to jump through a few more hoops just to make sure that everything’s safe, but being safe, I don’t think, is a bad thing,” she said, adding the increase in enforcement is not unreasonable. “Maybe the rules were too lax.”

Julia Oaks, organizer of the Invermere Farmers’ Market, said some vendors ran into trouble at the beginning of the season, but that the number of food vendors has remained the same.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it has nothing to do with the new inspector,” said Ms. Oaks.

She said the new health officer is simply doing her job.

“When it comes down to vendors servicing the public, there are rules — it’s not a dinner party at your own house.”

Dan Byron, a drinking water officer at Interior Health, is filling in for Ron Popoff, the environmental health team leader, and oversees the health inspection services in the valley. The health team informs vendors and organizers what the expectations are for community events that concern public safety.

“We work with those people to try and make everybody happy,” Mr. Byron said. “We want the events to go on. We understand their importance in the community, but obviously, we want to have some assurances that the food prepared is going to be safe, and that’s very difficult to do when it’s being made out of people’s kitchens.”

As an example of the uncertainties that can cause problems in homes, Mr. Byron referred to a household sink that had more than one use: a mother was preparing a turkey in the kitchen, unaware that her children had cleaned out their turtle aquarium in the sink. Though the incident happened outside the valley, it demonstrates the potential for large-scale poisoning.

“In the case of chilli, our food safety concern is that chilli is typically cooked in large batches, often prepared in advance.”

He said there’s a critical step involved after cooking. If it’s not done properly, it can lead to food-borne illnesses.

“After [spore-forming pathogenic organisms] are heated and cooked and begin to cool, they can become vegetative cells again and produce toxins, and those toxins are not destroyed when the product is reheated.”

Vendors or organizers can contact the local health protection office in Invermere for information on food safety, on applications for temporary food and mass gathering events and farmers’ markets, and on compliance at 250-342-2360