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September 17, 2013

Nonprofit, churches center of food-safety debate

Health officials looking to reduce risk of foodborne illnesses at nonprofit events.

(Continued)

Those volunteers aren’t required to receive any food-handling training, nor is the church or non-profit required to provide it.

State Sen. Patricia Miller, an Indianapolis Republican who chairs the commission, is also a nurse. She said she’s been at church and nonprofit events where volunteers are told to wear gloves when serving food, but aren’t warned about cross-contamination.

“People think if they’ve got on gloves, that’s all they need. But I’ve seen them wipe their face, go handle money and then pick up a sandwich, without changing their gloves,” Miller said. “They’re trying to do what’s right, but they’re just getting half the story. And we just need to try to help them.”

What form that help might take is still subject to debate. Gilliam said the state health department would like to see organizations that are currently exempt from the state’s food-handling laws follow more closely the practices of those organizations that are covered by law. He stopped short of calling for more regulation, though.

The Legislature attempted to improve food-handling practices back in 2001 when it redefined what a “food establishment” was. But in doing, it inadvertently banned such events as church potlucks and meals served after church funerals. The Legislature had to go back later and fix the law’s language.

Miller cited that experience. “I don’t know that we’ll get into more regulation, we may get in to more education,” she said. “I think that’s probably something we can do that would be more palatable than regulation, but that’s yet to be decided.”

The state health department has until the end of October to make its recommendations to the commission on any potential changes to the state’s food safety laws.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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