3OYS: Arizona State Fair food vendors seek 'clean' bill of health

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- 3 On Your Side went to the Arizona State Fair last year to see just how clean the food vendors were, and we were pretty impressed with what we found. So, we went back again this year just to see if things would be different.

There are rides to make you scream and foods to make your mouth water. Sizzling links, cheeseburgers, all kinds of fried foods and, if you're daring, chocolate-covered bacon. And it's all at the Arizona State Fair.

"We come out every single year," said Starletta Brown, who was at the fair not for fun but to do her job.

Brown is a health inspector with Maricopa County Environmental Services. Health inspectors usually examine restaurants for cleanliness, but on this day, Brown was inspecting food vendors at the fair.

3 On Your Side tagged along to see what she might find. On the very first inspection, she found a violation.

"You guys need to stop working until you get the water on," Brown told one vendor, who had not turned the water on yet.

Water, of course, is needed for hygiene and cleaning, so no water, no business. But as soon as she flagged the problem, the issue was fixed and the vendor was back in business.

"Basically, we're going to look for the same things as we would in a restaurant," Brown said. "We're going to make sure everything is in compliance with the food code. We're going to make sure the food's hot, the food's cold. If they're cooking foods, we're going to make sure they're cooking them to the proper temperature."

At another vendor, Brown found they had water, but it was way too hot for hand washing.

"Can you do me another huge favor? Can you put a little cold water in it?" she asked the vendor.

With around 90 food vendors at the fairgrounds, Brown and other inspectors have quite a job. But their main goal is food safety and employee hygiene.

"Your hand-wash setup is where? Got soap and paper towels? All right, very good," she told a vendor.

Each inspection takes about 15 minutes. Food is tested for temperature. Warm foods have to be kept a specific temperature and so do cold foods.

On this day, only a few violations were flagged, but they were immediately brought to the vendor's attention and corrected on the spot.  

Vendors say they welcome the routine inspections, and that's a good thing for Brown because she's out at the fair on a regular basis.

"Everything catches my eye, but I’m here to do what I’m supposed to do: to make sure everybody's in compliance and make sure the food is good to go," she said.

If you think about it, regular restaurants around the Valley are inspected once every few months at best. But when these food vendors are inspected, they want to be clean because this is the time to make money, and the last thing they want is to be shut down.