Health officials oversee preparation of food for community find-raisers Carroll Co., for example, requires permits, inspects fire halls twice a year


Church suppers and fire hall feeds -- the meat of fund raising for volunteers throughout Maryland -- can mean a new piece of equipment for a fire department or a new roof for an old parish building.

And despite the apparent salmonella outbreak that killed at least one person and sickened more than 600 people who dined at a Southern Maryland church last weekend, event organizers around the state say stringent health regulations can protect a public eager for cheap, all-you-can-eat meals.

"Our food is all fresh and we serve it right away," said Edgar Wentz, chairman of the breakfast committee for the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company in northwestern Carroll County. "The thing in Southern Maryland might make people afraid for a while, but it is really rare."

The Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company will serve its monthly breakfast Sunday as scheduled, hoping for the usual crowd of about 350. In Westminster, Meadow Branch Church of the Brethren expects at least 300 people for pancakes tomorrow.

Carroll County inspects its 14 fire halls at least twice annually, monitoring everything from heating and cooling to hand-washing. Churches and fraternal organizations must apply for temporary permits for occasional events. Inspectors discuss preparation, menus and equipment, checking kitchens, cooking implements, even recipes.

"The main thing is to prepare in a licensed, regularly inspected facility that follows the proper preparation techniques and has safe water," said Edward F. Singer, Carroll County's assistant director of environmental health.

The Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department in northern Carroll County sold 750 crab cake dinners two weeks ago and is planning the next dinner.

"I hope the outbreak does not affect attendance at other fund-raisers," said volunteer Jim Buckley. "And I hope people learn from it."

St. Mary's County health officials have not traced the cause of the outbreak at Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Chaptico, but the 1,400 diners were served meats cooked at homes of parishioners, church leaders said.

"We have all the right commercial equipment," Buckley said. "Everything is prepared in our kitchens, even the pies."

Local health departments constantly monitor food served at public gatherings.

"We go during events, when they are actually cooking, and we usually spend the day," said Andrea Hanley, Carroll County's director of community hygiene. "We are dealing with hard-working, conscientious volunteers. They can't raise money serving crackers and chips."

In Caroline County, when Alex Marvel organizes the annual oyster supper for about 1,500 people, the main fund-raiser for the Ridgely Fire Department, he relies on the Health Department.

"Before we can serve any supper, we have a health department inspection," said Marvel. "Between the Health Department and careful volunteers, I am very confident."

Thanksgiving means 1,200 diners at the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Department and an inspection from the Frederick County Health Department.

"The Health Department makes sure our ovens and refrigerators are in good working order," said Margaret Dougherty, a Walkersville volunteer. "They are strict here, and it's a good thing they are."

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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