With additional manpower, the county health department is now able to enforce all the different food safety requirements.

Jennifer Berkemeier, food protection specialist, has been with the department since the end of March and had to immediately deal with all the summer festivals and fairs.

In addition to the bi-annual retail inspections, she is also responsible for enforcing the regulations for small luncheons and suppers hosted by churches and community groups.

“It was a lot to begin with,” Berkemeier said. “After experiencing the upbeat agenda at the beginning, the regular schedule seems like a piece of cake.”

She had previous worked as an intern at the Shelby county department and the Indiana Department of Health. Berkemeier passed the food safety professional exam and is studying public and environmental health at IUPUI and will receive her bachelor’s degree in December.

“I learned a lot about food safety and health overall,” she said. “My experiences were very helpful.”

The regulations are designed to prevent an outbreak of food-borne illness by instituting proper handling and preparation procedures. The investigations will also help trace the origins of an outbreak if one should occur. Community events like dinners and festivals pose a large risk because so many people visit and share the same food.

“There is a large amount of the population and if there is an outbreak we can trace it back,” Berkemeier said. “That’s the reasoning behind investigating community events.”

Until she joined the department, the position was only part-time, and the department didn’t have the manpower to investigate every event. Now, Berkemeier is able to make her presence felt, which is a new experience for many community groups. Many hosts are surprised and suspicious if they are investigated because they think someone has complained.

“We just have the ability to visit more events now,” Berkemeier said. “It’s just new, so everyone is trying to understand. They shouldn’t be concerned.”

The only real requirements for a community event is separating the cleaning chemicals from the food. Many events are on a tight schedule and use bleach to clean quickly, which must be stored away from the food.

“It’s going really well, and I haven’t seen any establishments that were negligent,” Berkemeier said. “Everyone is aware of the safety status.”

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