MOUNT VERNON — Food booth inspections at the Knox County Fair are being conducted through Monday by county health department inspectors, which included the Knox County Pork Council mobile food booth on Friday — home of the regionally well-known “Porkette” sandwich since 1976.
Food inspector Terri Hillier, one of three county food inspectors, explained that with ground pork and beef, a metal stem-probe thermometer is used to make sure the internal meat-cooking temperature is 155 degrees or above when a Porkette is ready to come off the grill. Pork Council members are asked to test each patty.
That constant challenge is actually embraced by Marsha Meyers, Rose Hurlow, and the Pork Council’s newly certified food safety manager, Kathy Fry.
“We go to 165 (degrees). Our customers tend to like their sandwiches well done, (so they’re) brown,” Meyers said. “We only put salt and pepper on them, no seasonings.” And if it’s a breakfast Porkette, served before 11 a.m., included on top is a fried egg.
Friday was a set-up day for the small, red-colored Porkettes mobile food booth, so no Porkettes were being served — not until today at noon. Hillier nevertheless went down a checklist of items the Porkettes would need to pass in order to receive their Mobile Food Service Operators License. It is especially important that the back of the license show the layout of the food booth and what foods and drinks it is permitted to sell, Hillier said. Cold-circulating drink containers, and the Porkettes’ grill, come with the symbol NSF — machinery approved by the National Sanitation Foundation.
The refrigerator inside the Porkettes’ booth isn’t for pulling out porkette patties. It is strictly used for storing eggs and cheese, Meyers said. All food vendors at the fair are required to store refrigerated food at 41 degrees or colder, Knox County Environmental Health Director Nate Overholt said. Not doing so, due to very hot fair temperatures and other factors, is a common violation food inspectors deal with. Many vendors bring in their mobile food servers license approved by an adjoining county.
Meyers said on Saturday, the Porkettes would be bringing in two rented freezer units to store their Porkettes. “All of our Porkettes we serve go right from the freezer to the grill,” she offered.
Outside of the Porkettes mobile food booth, Hillier tested its water line to make sure the water hose, including a double-valve hookup, was in order — the double-valve allowing pressure release when needed. There is also a “gray water” out-take hose so that used water, which may contain food bits after the sanitation process, flows into an approved holding tank or treatment system. A gray water line laying around without being hooked up to its out-take source is a violation, Hiller noted.
The Porkettes booth runs entirely on electricity, unlike most other fair food booths that use propane tanks for heating food. All must have fire extinguishers on hand, including regular extinguishers and those for grease fires. Propane users also need carbon monoxide detectors, Hillier said. There must also be nearby “no smoking” signs.
Hillier tested the separate hand sink for hand washing, to make sure hot water was in working order along with a supply of soap. Utensils are normally washed in a three-stage order of wash, rinse, and sanitize. Since the Knox County Pork Council is one of the oldest mobile food booth vendors, it receives a variance so the sanitizing can be done in a large, square, stainless steel tub.
Food vendors can choose amongst a chlorine-based, quaternary ammonium or iodine system for sanitizing utensils and surfaces. The Pork Council uses simple bleach as their sanitizing system, with a quarter teaspoon per gallon producing a reading of between 50 and 100 parts per million. The white test strip of paper Hillier snipped off and dabbed in the water-chrlorine mixture turned a mid-shade of purple, meaning it falls within the acceptable range.
Still another highly important fair food booth issue is ensuring that food is handled — and handed — to customers safely, Overholt said, offering, “The basic rule is no bare-hand contact.” That means when handing out a hot dog or ice cream or a Porkette, there must be a deli tissue, paper hot dog holder or some other type of barrier between hands and food. Otherwise, that is another violation.
Two other health department inspectors working with Hillier are Suzanne Dapprich and Kelly Biggs.
The Mount Vernon Fire Department also visits food booths to ensure they have fire extinguishers and are not using electrical extension cords, Hillier said.