Food stands: Even the little guys need a license

Friday, October 8, 2010

At Akron's recent Scarecrow Fest, a few of the food vendors had to make last minute changes to their booths.

An inspector from the Siouxland District Health explained they needed to have a temporary license to operate, but they didn't meet the requirements.

"They just had to set up some hand wash stations, which are relatively simple, and one place needed to set up basically a dishwashing area," said Glenn Eckert, an environmental specialist with Siouxland District Health.

"It was nothing more than I would normally expect at a place where there are some non-profits that were not too familiar with all of the rules," he said.

A law requiring temporary licenses for non-profit vendors went into effect a few years ago, Eckert said.

"In Iowa for the most part, if you're selling food, you have to have a license to do that," said Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, of the Siouxland District Health.

For short events like the Akron Scarecrow Festival, vendors can purchase a temporary food license.

They can't buy those temporary licenses ahead of time. Vendors buy the licenses the day of the event if a district health representative is present to sell them.

They cost $33.50.

Rosendahl said the district health office doesn't always know when food vendors are going to be at an event, and health officials request that event organizers notify them.

"If we know there is a festival going on, we'll stop in and check the vendors," Eckert said. "There's lots of things that go on during weekends in smaller towns we don't even know about."

One of the biggest things district health officials see is food vendors that don't have a place to wash hands right where they are working.

"If they have any kind of food or beverages that are not prepackaged, they would have to have a handwashing station," Rosendahl said. "It doesn't have to be a sink with actual running water."

Using hand sanitizer is not enough to take the place of washing hands, Eckert said.

The district health website gives instructions as to how to set up a temporary handwashing station.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be hot water," Eckert noted. "The whole idea behind hand washing is the friction of rubbing your hands together using soap. However, warm water would be more helpful."

For warm water at a hand washing station, he suggested using an old coffee percolator to keep water warm.

The health inspectors also will want to know where the food being sold came from.

"It has to come from a licensed or approved source. If they have meat we would look at if it's inspected meat," Rosendahl said.

Inspectors also want to know where food was prepared.

"In this situation, it's not allowed for food to be prepared at home and brought to a temporary food stand and sold, with a couple exception of some non-potentially-hazardous baked goods," Rosendahl said. "We don't know what issues may be in the home. It's not an inspected kitchen."

Prepared food would have to come from an approved source like a school or church kitchen that is inspected.

There are some exceptions to the rules.

For example, a non-profit organization can serve food one day per week on its premises without a temporary license.

That means, for example, at a church potluck, people can bring food prepared at home, and no temporary food license is needed.

A non-profit organization can also vend food up to two times per year on another non-profit's property, Eckert explained.

"The trouble is with city parks or fairgrounds, that kind of thing, are not considered non-profits," he explained. "They are municipal corporation's properties."

A non-profit selling food in a city park or parking lot would need a temporary license, he said.

Other things inspectors check for are whether food is being protected from contamination, whether it's being held at the proper temperature, and whether surfaces are sanitized at booths where food is being prepared.

A full brochure listing the rules -- along with the instructions for creating a handwashing station -- is available at Click on the link for "Forms and Permits" along the left side of the web page. One of the items in that folder refers to "Temporary Food Stands."

Rosendahl urged event organizers to communicate with vendors and share the brochure with them.

"It's the Iowa Food Code -- it's not just our requirements," she said. "It's what the law is."

All the vendors at the Akron Scarecrow Fest did get their temporary license.

"What we normally do is, if there's somebody there who doesn't have everything they need or is not doing something properly, we would work with them so they can get it up to code," Rosendahl said. "Then we would issue the license."

The season for community events like city centennials and festivals is wrapping up now that fall is setting in, but Rosendahl said working ahead on an event isn't a bad thing.

"The more pre-preparation that can be done, the smoother it's going to go on the day of the event," she said.

Eckert said at times, people can be frustrated with the requirements, but they are for the health of everyone.

"It's all about being well prepared to serve food safely to the public," he said.

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