State Fair Food Vendors – Food Safety

With festival and fair season approaching, food vendors need to be trained or certified in food safety. There are many factors that can lead to foodborne illness from the temporary food vendors at these events and so proper food safety procedures are essential.

A temporary restaurant is any establishment operating temporarily in connection with any event where food is prepared or served for consumption by the public. Examples of events include: fairs, carnivals, circuses, festivals, concerts or any other public gathering. Generally, they are commonly referred to as food booths and to operate, you probably have to obtain a temporary restaurant license from the county where the event will be held.

Foodborne illnesses increase during the hot summer months, making it even more important to follow food safety steps.

There are several reasons that foodborne illnesses increase in summer. For example, eating outdoors in warm weather presents a food safety challenge. Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so summer heat makes the basics of food safety especially important. And if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F, food can become dangerous after only one hour.

Likewise, the usual safety controls that a kitchen provides, like monitoring of food temperatures, refrigeration, workers trained in food safety and washing facilities, may not be available when cooking and dining at fairs and festivals.

Get Food Safety Trained or Certified

Requirements differ by state, but in general, temporary and mobile food vendors should  take a food handler training course. Moreover, a lot of people working at food booths at these events have ever done this before, so it is essential that they take an inexpensive, yet invaluable food handler training course to be certified to apply for a food license with the fair. This online training is a short course in the essentials of food safety and students are issued a  food-handler’s certificate upon completion that can be displayed in the vendor booths.

Is a food booth required to have person in charge?
Each food booth should have at least one person certified as a food protection manager. This person-in-charge (PIC) is responsible for knowing the food sanitation rules and the procedures within your vendor booth. This person should also provide employees with information they need to perform their job.

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General Food Safety Practices

Remember that food safety practices should be the same at fairs as they are at restaurants and at home: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.


  • Keep food contact surfaces clean and sanitized.
    Clean with a wiping cloth, rinse with clean water then sanitize with a spray-on bleach solution (1/2 teaspoon of bleach/quart of water). The wiping cloth used to clean surfaces should be maintained in a bucket of bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach/2 gallons of water). This should be changed every two hours. The wiping cloth is for cleaning (not sanitizing).
  • Wash dishes properly.
    Wash dishes with warm soapy water, rinse, immerse in bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach/gallon of water), air dry.
  • Utensil Washing.
    Provide two large buckets or tubs (3-5 gallon capacity) for utensil washing.  The first container shall have soapy water; the second one a sanitizer solution with one-capful of bleach for every gallon of water in the container.  The buckets or tubs must be large enough to wash the largest utensil.
  • Hand Washing.
    If a hand washing sink is not in the food stand, a temporary hand washing system can be easily set up. Your hands can easily spread bacteria around the vendor booth and onto food. This is why it’s important to always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before starting to prepare food and after touching raw food such as meat, poultry and vegetables.
  • Hand contact with food.
    Minimize bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food. Use disposable gloves, tissues, tongs or other utensils whenever possible.


Separate raw food, including meat/fish and vegetables from ready-to-eat foods.

Raw foods such as meat, fish and vegetables may contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives.

It’s especially important to keep raw foods away from ready-to-eat food, such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these types of food won’t be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get onto the food won’t be killed.

Cross-contamination is when juices from uncooked foods come in contact with safely cooked foods, or with other raw foods that don’t need to be cooked, like fruits and vegetables. The juices from some raw foods, like meats and seafood, can contain harmful bacteria that could make you and your family sick.


Maintaining food at a safe temperature while cooking and reheating are critical safe food handling practices.

  • Thaw frozen food in a refrigerator overnight, or thaw it under cold running water in a food preparation sink for no more than two hours.  Do not thaw food by leaving it at room temperature.
  • Prepare food inside the booth only.  Barbecue or grilling equipment should be located outside the booth in an area that minimizes overhead contamination.
  • When the cooking process starts, it must be taken to completion. Never partially cook a food item, such as ground beef or a turkey, and finish cooking at a later date.
  • Any foods being reheated should reach at least 165ºF before hot holding or service.
  • Do not attempt to reheat food in a crock-pot, chafing dish or other hot-holding device. Hot-holding equipment is not designed to reheat food quickly. It takes too long to reheat the food and allows bacteria to grow.
  • Hot food left over at the end of the day may not be re-used the next day.

Minimal Final Cooking temperatures for foods commonly served at fairs

Thoroughly cook food.  The following final cooking temperatures ensure the food is safe to eat:

Temperature Food
145°F Beef, veal, lamb and buffalo steaks;
Fish seafood and shell egg (individual order)
155°F Ground/chopped meat and fish; injected meats; eggs in hot holding
Roasts – pork, beef, lamb, and buffalo
165°F All Poultry (ground or whole); leftovers*; stuffed foods
140°F or higher All foods being held for hot-service (i.e. pulled pork or beef sandwiches, barbeques, hotdogs, taco meat, cooked vegetables)
*Foods prepared ahead of time, such as barbeques and taco meat, are treated as leftovers.



  • Thaw in the cooler, microwave, running water or as part of the cooking process.
  • Cool foods from 140°F to 70° F within four hours, and 70°F to below 41°F within an additional two hours.
  • Develop a plan for storing and holding large quantities of food that need to be temperature controlled below 41°F.
    • Electric or gas powered coolers are often set between 36°F and 38°F to maintain food at 41°F or lower.
    • Coolers with ice are intended for smaller amounts of food for a short time period or for foods such as beverages (i.e.) that are NOT required to be held at 41°F or lower.

Waste Disposal

  • Provide an adequate number of trash cans with trash bag liners.  Properly dispose of all trash at the end of the event.
  • Liquid waste (e.g. dirty water bucket for hand washing) must be disposed into a sanitary sewer and never on the surface of the ground or in a storm drain.

Fire Safety Basics: Staff Training

Train your staff with these fire safety basics:

  • Use Proper Fire Extinguisher. Provide a type A/B/C fire extinguisher in the booth if flammable liquids or gas are used.
  • Use a fire extinguisher appropriately.  An acronym you may find helpful is PAST – pull out the pin, aim at the base, make a sweeping motion, (be) ten feet away.
  • Cooking Location: Locate cooking equipment in a safe area outside the booth that minimizes customer interference.  Keep cooking equipment 2 feet away from any flammable booth or canopy material.
  • Clean up the grease. Cleaning exhaust hoods is especially important, since grease buildup can restrict air flow. Be sure to also clean walls and work surfaces; ranges, fryers, broilers, grills and convection ovens; vents and filters.
  • Never throw water on a grease fire. Water tossed into grease will cause grease to splatter, spread and likely erupt into a larger fire.
  • Remove ashes from wood- and charcoal-burning ovens at least once a day.
  • Store flammable liquids properly. Keep them in their original containers or puncture-resistant, tightly sealed containers. Although a food truck kitchen is very small, you should attempt to store containers in well-ventilated areas away from combustible supplies, food, food-preparation areas or any source of flames.
  • Tidy up to avoid fire hazards. Store paper products, linens, boxes and food away from heat and cooking sources. Properly dispose of soiled rags, trash, cardboard boxes and wooden pallets at least once a day.
  • Use chemical solutions properly. Use chemicals in well-ventilated areas, and never mix chemicals unless directions call for mixing. Immediately clean up chemical spills.
  • Electrical Cords. Minimize use of electrical extension cords and protect electrical lines from water and thoroughfares.
  • First Aid. Always have a first aid kit on site.

State Fair Directory

State fairs, originally held to celebrate the harvest, have grown into enormously popular annual events. State fairs offer great, affordable dining and entertainment close to home.