No county food inspections made at Rifle Rodeo last week before dozens reported sickness | SummitDaily.com

No county food inspections made at Rifle Rodeo last week before dozens reported sickness

Alex Zorn / The Post Indepenedent

Garfield County Public Health Environmental Health Specialist Natalie Tsevdos helps to ensure that Garfield County builds a successful food safety consumer protection program.

Though the cause of a disease outbreak among people who attended the Rifle Rodeo last week remains undetermined, Garfield County public health officials said Monday they were not alerted to the event and did not make food inspections ordinarily required of events open to the public.

Dozens of people who attended the privately organized rodeo June 5 at the Garfield County Fairgrounds reported gastrointestinal distress, and several have told the Post Independent they ate there. Public health officials have ruled out air- or waterborne causes, or a sickness transmitted from person to person, as well as ruling out e-coli, salmonella or Hepatitis A.

Whether food caused the sickness or not, vendors serving food to the public at events such as the many summer festivals coming up are required to be licensed and inspected, county officials said.

“With few exceptions, any vendor that provides food at a public event must be licensed,” said Carrie Godes, a county public health specialist. Vendors at the Rifle Rodeo were not inspected by the Consumer Protection Division before opening night on June 5.

The Consumer Protection Division policy is that “event organizers should work with local consumer protection officials to assure that their vendors are meeting these requirements. Garfield County Public Health is unable to conduct onsite inspections for and is not notified of, every temporary event that occurs in Garfield County.”

The division inspects food providers at temporary events, such as the Garfield County Fair, festivals and farmers markets, according to the county’s website.

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The public can rest assured that as Glenwood Springs gears up for its annual Strawberry Days Festival and other events are scheduled through the summer, proper procedures are being followed.

For years temporary events like Strawberry Days had been regulated by the state, Godes said, the state Public Health Act of 2008 moved inspections to the local level.

She said the state encourages local public health departments to administer consumer protection programs because they are able to provide faster response to vendors and the community.

“Now we are able to have someone live here locally and have a much greater local presence,” Godes said. “Local public health has a greater capacity to be able to complete routine inspections, respond to consumer complaints or outbreaks, and provide trainings, permits and forms.”

Local health departments continue to receive support from the state, but at this point, most counties in Colorado have local or regionally administered consumer protection programs.

The Garfield County Public Health consumer protection division conducts all food inspections in the county — though in order to conduct the inspection, it must be informed of the event beforehand.

For example, with Strawberry Days coming up this weekend, vendors must have submitted application materials two weeks ahead of time.

Alex Ballas with Dionysos Greek Foods, which has been a vendor at the event for more than 40 years, said that he submitted the material as soon as he registered for the annual event.

Whenever food vendors get set up in Garfield County for a temporary or special event, they must submit materials to the public health department, depending on what type of vendor they are.

Nonprofit organizations, for example, must simply submit a nonprofit vendor application and official nonprofit documentation to Garfield County Public Health at least two weeks prior to first event, while a licensed restaurant that wants to sell food at a temporary or special event must submit a temporary vendor application and a license application with a temporary event license fee of $255 annually or $115 annually for pre-packaged foods only.

When Strawberry Days starts Friday, Garfield County Public Health officials will visit each booth and ensure that all food preparation, sanitation and storage is up to code.

Ballas explained that the inspections look at the cleanliness, sanitation and temperatures at each food station.

“They make sure you have a hand-washing station to avoid cross-contamination and will look at temperatures and storage equipment,” he added.

For more information on what is needed from food vendors for temporary or special event, visit the Garfield County Public Health food vendor flow chart.