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K-State Today

January 19, 2017

Kristin Malek studies fair and festival food safety

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Eating is a popular activity at the thousands of fairs and festivals that take place in the United States each year. Factors such as outdoor locations, insufficient temperature control, unsanitary practices of food handlers, and the frequent presence of animals make food safety a potential problem at these events, but little research has been done to determine the scope of the problem.

Kristin Malek, assistant professor of hospitality management, is out to change that. She conducted a study of 30 fairs and festivals across Kansas in 2016 to observe the state of food safety practices. Her objectives were to develop baseline data on types of food operations and on-the-job food safety practices at fairs and festivals, identify corrective actions and develop recommendations for food safety training programs that are specific to fairs and festivals.

Appropriate and targeted training programs are important because most fairs and festivals are run by volunteers who have little formal training. The right programs could help organizers reduce liability and increase customer satisfaction while reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

Malek's ultimate goal is to protect consumers.

"Foodborne illness has serious implications for the attendees, the organization, and the community," she said.

Malek found interesting results. Of all the food vendors, one type had the most frequent violations statewide. Of all the areas observed, access to hand-washing stations was most frequently lacking. At community festivals with more mom-and-pop type stands, sample food was frequently given out to entice visitors, but this was done with little regard for food safety practices. Malek plans to use these foundational standards from her study to inform future studies and grant submissions.

A University Small Research Grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs in fall 2015 supported Malek's study.

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