Community Food Events, Volunteers, and Food Safety

— By Kathy Savoie, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Educator

Maine has a rich history of community food events such as public meals at churches, granges, fraternal organizations, soup kitchens and food fundraising events that rely on the participation of volunteers. The volunteers are critical to the long-term success of not only the individual event, but to the financial life of the organization. Unsafe food at a single event can create a legal risk, which could result in a great financial loss.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year. The economic impact of foodborne illness, in terms of medical care, lost wages and associated costs, is estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year.

To decrease the possibility of a foodborne outbreak at these community food events, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension educates volunteers on the importance and responsibility of safe food handling through Cooking for Crowds workshops. These workshops aim to provide realistic planning methods that volunteers can use at community food events so that volunteers are educated and will practice safe food handling procedures.

Volunteers gain critical thinking skills to apply throughout the food handling process including: planning, purchasing, storing, preparing, transporting, holding, serving and handling leftovers. Emphasized food safety practices include: thermometer use, hand-washing, proper thawing methods, steps to reduce cross contamination, record keeping, cleaning and sanitizing. Evaluations of previous attendees indicate that 90% of participants have taken action towards improving practices, policies, and available equipment to improve food safety and decrease the risk of a foodborne outbreak.

Please join us at one of our upcoming Cooking for Crowds workshops, register today! This workshop meets the Good Shepherd Food Bank Food Safety training requirement.