Feb 11, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The annual Wild Game Dinner at the Open Door Baptist Church in New Woodstock started off this past Saturday, Feb. 9, the way it has for the past 27 years: more than 200 people showed up bearing numerous homemade dishes made from wild game and the ladies of the church baked some 50 pies for dessert. The difference this year — about 15 minutes into the event an official from the Madison County Department of Health showed up and said serving such homemade dishes without a permit violated the county health code, and all the food had to be taken out of the building and put back in everyone’s vehicles in order to avoid prosecution for a public health hazard.
The food was removed and the seminar on waterfowl and turkey hunting tips, as well as the discussions on Christ, still were held, but “it certainly affected the atmosphere of the evening [and] kind of took the wind out of everyone’s sails,” said David DeLeon, Open Door pastor.
According to Geoffrey Snyder, director of environmental health for Madison County, his department’s action in New Woodstock was not unusual, especially at an event where wild game was to be served, and they have many times either informed groups of possible violations or made events get rid of homemade items where permits were not issued and health codes were not followed.
“It’s really the issue of the wild game,” Snyder said. “How do we know where this food came from? Technically this type of event needed a permit from the health department.”
According to state health regulations in Title 10, Part 14-1.20, “food service operations where a distinct group mutually provides, prepares, serves and consumes food such as a ‘covered-dish supper’ is limited to a congregation, club or fraternal organization.” As Snyder informed the church in an email on Friday, Feb. 8, the day before the event, because the event was open to the public and not limited to a specific group, such as the church congregation, “The presence or service of food secured from an unapproved source and/or prepared in a place that is not properly permitted is deemed an imminent health hazard against the public interest.”
Snyder said the reason the health department has not prohibited the church’s Wild Game Dinner during the past 27 years is because the department was not aware of it, and only discovered this year’s event through seeing an advertisement in the newspaper. “We had no choice but to follow up,” he said.
DeLeon said the church received an email from the health department last Friday, but after reading the department’s information brochure, which stated, “Some events do not require a permit. These include bake sales or covered dish suppers where people bring a dish to share with each other,” the church did not believe they were violating the health code.
“This was the first we’d heard of this,” DeLeon said. After the county official appeared at the event on Saturday, “rather than cause a fuss we just complied. Our plan now is to regroup and work with the department [in the future].”
One attendee of the event, Shawn Skeele, was not so sanguine about the affair. “Everyone who comes to this dinner pretty much knows the risks they are taking when trying out these dishes which range from snake, deer, bear, squirrel, woodchuck, goose, rabbit, road kill (who knows) and even crow,” he wrote in an email to numerous local news outlets, including the Cazenovia Republican. “So here we are again; a sensible law of monitoring the food supply served to the public that has gone amuck to shutting down potluck church dinners open to the public where there is no fee or money required to partake in.”
Cazenovia Town Supervisor Ralph Monforte, who also sits on the county board of supervisors, said he was not aware of the county health department’s action last Saturday, and “I’ve never heard of something like this before. I’m sorry that it happened. I’m sure there’s some procedure that was missed, although I don’t know on whose side.”
After being informed of the event, Monforte contacted Snyder to get more information, and also asked Snyder to contact the Cazenovia Republican, which otherwise could not get in touch with him on a Sunday.
When asked if any community organization who wants to hold a pot-luck dinner or bake sale should be concerned about violating county health codes, Snyder said not necessarily. He said the department often issues letters of permission for such events, and works hard to contact all groups to give them the appropriate information about serving food to the public.
“We always want to encourage organizations to contact us before events like these; we have information we can provide to help them follow all the necessary procedures,” Snyder said.
For more information, contact the Madison County Health Department at 366-2361 or toll free at 1-800-721-2361, or visit healthymadisoncounty.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.