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Health officials cite Scottsdale BBQ event
Some Scottsdale Airpark business owners found that out the hard way, with threatened fines of up to $5,000.
Maricopa County health officials have a list of food-safety rules for special events like the Scottsdale parking-lot picnics.
That includes a three-sided tent for the grill, flowing hot water for hand-washing, meat thermometers, $15 food-handler licenses, an $85 permit and a consumer advisory if undercooked hamburgers are sold.
The businesses at 7848 E. Redfield Road were cited for their July barbecue, held for about 100 people, and were denied a permit for an Aug. 26 charity lunch for the National Eating Disorders Association.
"It's no harm, no foul," said Carpet-Rite owner Steve Klein, who acknowledged the group technically violated county rules but said the barbecue has operated safely since it started in fall 2009. "There was no exercise of judgment."
The luncheons have raised about $23,000 over 19 months to help various groups, including a U.S. infantry unit in Afghanistan and the family of slain Gilbert police Lt. Eric Shuhandler.
Government regulation and food safety have been hot topics in recent years as food-borne illnesses are blamed for 5,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.
At the local level, the attention to food safety has led to a collision of special-event rules that apply equally to everything from the Waste Management Phoenix Open to church picnics, school carnivals and charity barbecues.
Four county inspectors and a field supervisor from the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department monitored more than 3,700 special-event food permits in fiscal 2011. Permit fees generated $453,990 in county revenue, up 18 percent from the previous year.
"The rules are applied equally," said Robert Stratman, Maricopa County environmental-operations supervisor.
"We're an advocate for the general public and for the permit holders to lessen their liability" from any food-borne illnesses.
Burden for charities
The permits and requirements are a "necessary evil" that can create compliance headaches for volunteers unfamiliar in dealing with city, county and state regulators, said Nick Heth of the Active 20-30 Club of Phoenix, which does two major charity events each year that raise about $100,000.
"It's not rocket science, but then I've been doing it a long time," he said of obtaining permits.
The club budgets $2,700 for food and liquor permits, Heth said.
"I wish I didn't have to pay $85 for a food permit to serve olives and fruit as a garnish in drinks," he said.
County rules require a food permit for special-event bars to prevent mishandling of olives, limes and other fruit.
Joell Rodriguez, who obtained permits for the St. John Vianney's Catholic Church spring fiesta in Goodyear, said it took some time to learn the rules but the county workers were helpful.
"When we started it was a cat and mouse type thing," he said.
In Scottsdale, the business group did not realize it needed a permit to run its monthly barbecue. The event involved buying hamburgers, bratwurst, buns, water and soda at Costco.
Stephen Klassen, general manager at Affinity Kitchens, another Scottsdale Airpark business that participated, said he would store the food in a refrigerator in his showroom, roll out a gas grill at lunch time on the last Friday of each month and start cooking. Dozens of customers and friends would make a charity donation, typically $5 to $20, to partake.
Grill shut down
It all went well until July 29 when a county inspector showed up and initially told Klassen to stop grilling, he said.
The inspector did allow the event to continue, but the county later issued a notice of violation with possible civil penalties of $750 to $5,000.
Klassen and Klein said they worked for weeks with the county to comply but could not meet all their demands for an Aug. 26 barbecue. They canceled it two days before the event.
The group needed hot water for hand-washing, a tent to cook in and Klassen's showroom refrigerator was unacceptable because it is not in a county-approved kitchen or commissary, the county's Stratman said.
Klassen and Klein, clearly frustrated, said they are trying to figure out how to keep the event going.
"I thought (the county's) perspective was about as narrow as you could get," Klein said, adding that he thinks the county is trying to gin up as much revenue as it can.
Klassen said the group will consider working with a food truck, caterer or restaurant to try staging more charity luncheons.
"This has just made it extremely difficult for us," he said. "These organizations we help are in desperate need."
County BBQ rules
Maricopa County has these requirements for groups grilling hamburgers and serving food at special events:
• A hand-washing station with a minimum of 5 gallons of hot water, soap, paper towels and a waste bucket 15 percent larger than the freshwater container.
• A three-sided tent to protect the grill from airborne contaminants.
• A temporary permit of $85.
• The food must be purchased the day of the event or stored in an approved commissary, with a log of when the food is delivered.
• A certified food manager and $15 food-handler licenses for anyone handling food.
Source: Maricopa County
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/community/scottsdale/articles/2011/09/06/20110906bbqrules0906.html?google_editors_picks=true#ixzz1XCuhlC7Q