More than 100 firefighters and other emergency response personnel stationed at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center for the total solar eclipse were eating food from a contaminated kitchen during part of their time there.
During a health inspection conducted by Deschutes County Health Services on Aug. 16, the Fair & Expo Center received a score of 78, considered a priority violation requiring a re-inspection. The 14 individual violations included instances of cooked food placed near raw meat, out-of-date supplies and rodent droppings on food packaging.
“Some places have good days; some places have bad days,” said Eric Mone, communicable disease and environmental health supervisor for Deschutes County.
From Aug. 16 through Aug. 23, the Fair & Expo Center played host to a multi-agency coordination center for groups in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties, that were there to monitor the influx of visitors to Central Oregon and respond to emergencies, such as fires or car crashes. Nathan Garibay, emergency services manager for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, said representatives from police and fire departments across the region were present at the facility, as were officers from Deschutes County Search and Rescue, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Office of Emergency Management and more.
Mone, who was among those stationed at the Fair & Expo Center, took the opportunity to conduct a routine inspection on the facility’s main kitchen, which provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for the approximately 175 people stationed at the facility that week.
The inspection found that rodents had chewed holes in peanut packages and a bag of pinto beans. Rodent droppings were found on the floor and on packages of food, according to the inspection write-up. Additionally, raw pork was stored above cooked food, which can cause cross-contamination, and some of the equipment was stored without being cleaned, according to the write-up.
Dan Despotopulos, director of the fairgrounds, said there’s no excuse for performance by fairgrounds staff, but pointed to several mitigating factors. The Deschutes County Fair concluded on Aug. 6, leaving the fairgrounds with a little more than a week to clean up, bring in additional food and prepare for an influx of visitors arriving for the eclipse.
“The whole kitchen was all cluttered up,” Despotopulos said. “It was probably the worst time for an inspector to come in.”
He said the kitchen provides for 15 food stands when the fair is in full swing, each of which has to be cleaned. Despite that, Despotopulos said the facility has had various issues with rodents in the past. The fairgrounds is near Redmond’s southeastern edge, adjacent to land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, and the property occasionally has to deal with woodchucks and other rodents. Mone added that the presence of animals at the county fair can attract small rodents to the facility.
“I think that area’s definitely susceptible to that kind of vermin,” Mone said.
After the inspection, Mone alerted Despotopulos to the problem, and the director of the fairgrounds began cleaning facilities immediately, and brought a pest control company to the facility the next day.
“The fair did a really good job of being responsive,” Mone said.
Despotopulos said no one got sick from the food served at the facility, and Garibay added that the food didn’t affect the staffers working there.
“Our experience with the fairgrounds was absolutely satisfactory,” Garibay said.
The Fair & Expo Center was re-inspected on Thursday. Brody Hodges, the environmental health specialist who conducted the second inspection, found several small issues, but said there were no rodents in the kitchen, and several untriggered mouse traps on the floor.
“Most of everything was corrected,” Hodges said.
Hodges added that there was no food being prepared during the second inspection, which made it easier to keep the facility clean. Despotopulos said the pest control company is working with the fairgrounds on a contract basis, and is focused on keeping rodents out of the kitchen.
“Sometimes, you get a slap on the wrist, and it wakes you up,” Despotopulos said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, email@example.com