County cracks down on school food sales - East Valley Tribune: News

County cracks down on school food sales

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Posted: Friday, March 26, 2004 3:15 am | Updated: 4:48 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

It’s the end of the bake sale.

Valley school groups are searching for new ways to raise funds since a countywide crackdown on unregulated food sales.

The tougher enforcement by Maricopa County food inspectors has silenced sizzling fajita fund-raisers at Chandler-Gilbert Community College and stopped Sno-Cone sales at Chandler schools.

While traditional bake sales are still legal, East Valley school officials said the new enforcement effort has sparked bans on any food that isn’t storebought and packaged.

"People aren’t really happy," said Cathy Brown, director of food services for the Chandler Unified School District. Yet the new rules are safer, she said, preventing students or others from eating food that could set off an allergic reaction or food-borne illness.

It has been tough on the Hispanic Student Organization at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which had sold fajitas nearly every month for the last 12 years, said the organization’s president, Sandra Romero.

"We usually make around $400 to $500 with each fajita sale," said Romero, 20.

"It was a big loss to us," she said.

The group is counting on car washes and a dance on April 3 to raise revenue this semester, she said.

Numerous student groups in Maricopa Community College District’s 10 colleges used to sell food to raise money — but no more, said district spokeswoman Chris Chesrown.

"We have had no reports of anyone getting sick, but it is our full intention to abide by the law," Chesrown said.

David Ludwig, manager of the county’s environmental health division, said the enforcement is not intended to hurt students trying to raise money.

"We just want to work with them and let them know about the issues," he said. "Potentially hazardous food or open food products cannot be offered or given away to the public without being properly permitted."

People who sell the food, as well as the institutions they represent, could be sued if someone gets ill, he said.

"We have informed our principals they need to keep a closer eye on things like concession stands at football games and other food brought into the schools," said Tom Herrmann, Scottsdale Unified School District spokesman.

The county began looking at school food sales more closely in 2002 after contaminated water jugs at a Phoenix golf course led to the death of 15-year-old Nils Beeman, Ludwig said.

More recently, school officials had called the health department asking for more enforcement against unofficial food sales, he said. Some schools have brought outside food vendors onto the campus, and officials did not want the competition from uninspected food operations, he said.

"They want a fair playing field," he said.

Schools will need to find alternatives to food sales from now on because the county will continue its heightened enforcement, Ludwig said. The heightened enforcement even affected the Chandler Pop Warner football team Ludwig’s son plays on, which used to offer grilled food for participants, he said.

"I said ‘If you get one person sick, you’ll lose the whole league,’ " said Ludwig, who lives in Gilbert. As an alternative, the team contracted with a mobile food vendor, he said.

"The team gets a percentage of the profit, the parents no longer had to volunteer, and the league still raises money," he said.

To learn more

On the Web: To do an Internet search for violations at specific schools, go to www.maricopa.gov, click on "restaurant ratings" and enter name of school in the search field.

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