How Safe is Community Service Prepared Food?

You may have read the headlines.

(CBS News) A food poisoning outbreak from turkey served at the Denver Rescue Mission has sent more than 50 people to the hospital for treatment.

(ABC News) “Authorities believe food poisoning caused more than 100 people to become sick following a potluck dinner at a Mormon church in Nevada over the weekend.”

“About 50 people were taken to Salt Lake City hospitals Sunday night after reports of food poisoning at a homeless shelter.”

Well intentioned, kind and community spirited people offer their generous time, talents and monies to help others, but sometimes the lack of food safety knowledge, experience and/or attention to food safety practices can cause misery.

The risk of food borne illness, from these community outreach services, has become so common place that there are books written with chapters specific to the issue. The ‘Desktop Guide for Not-For-Profits’ has a chapter on “reasonable precautions to prevent food poisoning and other illness.”

And the risk of a lawsuit is common enough that insurance companies are offering liability insurance. Here is a sentence from an insurance provider website. “What if someone took a bite out of your food and had an allergic reaction? Did you know that you could be held liable? “

In the past decade, many states have developed laws governing community service food service activities. In Minnesota, there is the “Church Lady Law” requiring food safety training for meals served.

Houston developed an innovative program in 2012 that, amongst other basic steps, provided free food handler courses for members of the food service group.

Not all community food service groups are so fortunate to have free publicly funded food safety courses, but you can help. Through a partnership with, Dining Grades Inc is offering free food safety courses to  well-intentioned food service groups such as churches,  homeless shelters and other community spirited organizations.

Join us in serving these great causes.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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