Utah bill to exempt food volunteers from mandatory food handler training

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes,
New Utah food safety regulations currently prevent individuals from serving food without a food handler’s permit, although that might change. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason will exempt volunteers, who are suddenly unable to serve meals to the homeless, namely at The Road Home. Hunger becomes a secondary concern when one gets foodborne illness.SCSK-Wide-Dine
The bill (HB176) would exempt volunteers from needing the food handler’s permits and Eliason states that they will receive some sort of food safety training. Eliason says “that in 30 years of volunteers providing food in the shelter, there hasn’t been a single case of food poisoning or foreign objects found in the food.”

Maybe. Volunteers aren’t magically immune from making people sick. Amongst the outbreaks, 40 visitors of the Denver Rescue Mission were hospitalized due to Staph aureus intoxication in 2012.

The Road Home has multiple kitchens where families can cook their own meals, but it’s the free food that’s at stake. The families are unable to save money so that they can leave the shelter if they have to purchase food. Nearby shelters and churches suffer as well; respectively, they cannot handle the increased demand for meals, nor do they receive donated meals.

Homeless people are a vulnerable, underserved population that is unlikely to visit a doctor, given its cost, when under gastrointestinal distress. Similarly, homeless shelters and food pantries operate under the Good Samaritan Act, which allows for varying degrees of safety for the distributed foods. A food handler’s permit isn’t a guarantee, but it does mean that each food handler has to have basic knowledge of foodborne illness and how it can be prevented. A good management structure is needed to ensure volunteers follow best practices.

Food served to the homeless should be just as safe as food purchased in a luxury restaurant—and without guidance on food safety and handling, there is little way to guarantee that is the case. Maybe there’s a way for the state of Utah to provide the permits and/or classes at zero to little cost, so that volunteers can access the information.


This entry was posted in Food Safety Culture, Food Safety Policy and tagged , , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.
  • Ben,
    We felt the same way and because we felt that the highly susceptible population they serve it was MORE important (can we say more important?) that the food be safe. In response, we reached out to the Road Home and are providing food safety instruction through posters and other materials.

    Thanks for your column!

    Bryan Chapman
    VP Strategic Development
    StateFoodSafety.com