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Festival vendors view Kanawha County health inspections as beneficial

By Candace Nelson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department continues to make its daily rounds inspecting the more than 25 food vendors for the Sesquicentennial celebration and FestivALL, some of the local vendors are welcoming the guidance.

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Jeni Burns, owner of Ms. Groovy's Cafe & Catering at 709 Washington St. W., takes her restaurant mobile for festivals all summer long, including Wine and All that Jazz and Live on the Levee.

Burns said any suggestions from the Health Department only serve to benefit her business.

"The health department is here to help me be better," Burns said.

"We're certainly not perfect, but if they tell me I'm doing something wrong, that correction helps me become a better chef. The reality is I don't want anyone to get sick on my food. The health department requires these certain things so people don't get sick."

Ms. Groovy's is serving up quesadillas, pepperoni rolls and more for the festivities. And Burns wants to make sure her customers love every last bite.

To prevent cross-contamination, she keeps the meat in separate coolers. Rather than keep the meat cooking all day and risk losing flavor, Burns cooks it, cools it and then reheats it to order. She said she also checks temperatures throughout the day to make sure hot food stays hot and cold food cold.

Wearing gloves and hand washing are also essential. A jug of water and soap sit nearby so workers can keep their hands clean at all times.

Minnie Leonard, 61, is the owner of The Leonards, a former family restaurant in South Charleston that now focuses solely on traveling to various fairs and festivals.

"For us, following the regulations isn't difficult," she said. "We've been doing this for 24 years, so that experience has helped."

The items on Leonard's menu include fish, whole chicken wings, pulled pork and ribs. To keep their food safe, The Leonards have multiple deep fryers for separate foods that are set to specific temperatures.

Leonard also cooks everything to order - save for the pulled pork and ribs - so it's fresh.

"Our customers are willing to wait 15 to 20 minutes because they know it's good," she said.

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department sanitarian Sean Carver said the veteran food vendors tend to serve the same types of food, so they have experience in preparing and storing it.

"We've also had preliminary meetings with the vendors to talk about the regulations and work out any potential problems," Carver said. "Some of the more difficult things are keeping cold things cold in this temperature."

Many of the vendors bring freezers and coolers while others avoid the issue altogether.

Charlie Black, with Friends of Blackwater Canyon, specializes in blackberry cobbler, peach cobbler and pepperoni rolls, and none are potentially hazardous foods, Carver said. Because of their ingredients, they have little possibility for contamination.

Black said the regulations are not difficult to follow, as he's been doing this for 10 years, and he's happy to be able to participate and raise money to protect the flying squirrels in the Blackwater Canyon.

Carver said Black appeared to be an experienced vendor. She said vendors who venture into lesser-known territory or try to develop items from scratch are more likely to set themselves up for failure.

"Not that they can't do it, and I don't want to discourage them, but that's when it takes much more effort," Carver said. "It just requires a higher level of attention and care."

Carver said she had seen only minor problems with the food vendors and none had been closed. She has found that generally items can be fixed in her presence.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at Candace.Nelson@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/Candace07.

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