Football fans across America will get together this week to watch Super Bowl LII, in Minneapolis. During the big game, friends and families will chat about the funniest Super Bowl commercials, Justin Timberlake’s half time performance and, of course, about which regional delicacy reigns supreme: cheese steaks or clam chowder. What most people won’t be talking about are the thousands of hours that environmental health (EH) professionals have put into preparations to ensure that this massive event is healthy and safe for all attendees and residents in the Twin Cities.
NEHA connected with Robert Becker, Senior Health Inspector at the City of Minneapolis Health Department, to learn more about the work that environmental health professionals in Minnesota have been doing to get their city ready for Super Bowl LII.
NEHA: How long has the City of Minneapolis Health Department been preparing for Super Bowl LII, and approximately how many EH professionals are involved in the efforts?
Becker: Initial preparations for our department began in May 2016. Over 100+ Environmental Health professionals have been involved in our planning efforts. I was fortunate to be a part of the Minneapolis contingent that visited Houston during Super Bowl LI. By shadowing the Houston Health Department food inspections staff during their operational phase, I witnessed firsthand the overall size, scope and complexity of various Super bowl events that provided food and beverage to patrons. Valuable insight was gained and has aided our department’s pre-planning strategies for Super Bowl LII.
NEHA: What are the primary areas of concern, from an EH prospective, when a city hosts a large-scale event like the Super Bowl?
Becker: Food safety, food security and food defense are primary areas of concern with a large-scale event such as the Super Bowl. High profile events increase the likelihood of intentional foul play and we want to ensure there is no intentional adulteration or tampering of food that will be served at Super Bowl related events. As part of our preparations, we have been working collaboratively with the FBI, FDA and University of Minnesota Food Protection Defense Institute. A total of 109 local health inspectors attended one day FDA training on Managing Food at Special events. This training provided valuable insight in expecting the unexpected, using risk analysis as a method to identify food safety challenges throughout all food handling steps and providing a perspective on how to incorporate food defense into event planning and management.
NEHA: What are some of the main things that EH professionals are doing proactively to ensure that Super Bowl attendees in Minneapolis are safe?
Becker: Our department has been working closely with various local, state and federal agencies. A collaborative approach to address public health concerns with our mutual aid partners, food establishments, event coordinators, party planners, venue operators, food service workers, hotel management and staff leading up to the ten day operational Super Bowl period has been paramount and instrumental throughout our planning process.
Food safety consultants have been hired to provide just in time bi-lingual training to operators and food service staff to help ensure critical food safety standards are being met. Thirty minute free online food safety training is also available via vouchers. Additionally, we are following an FDA model in utilizing a pre-event questionnaire for our Super Bowl events. This document gives event operators the opportunity to provide useful information on their operation well in advance of the event taking place. Some of the items included within the questionnaire are: type of food, food preparation times, number of meals served, cooling or par cooking any food, any specialized processes, is there an employee health policy in place, food received from approved sources, any temporary chefs or employees being used outside of business etc. We will also have the same team of inspectors assigned at the same events throughout the operational period which allows the teams to establish a good rapport and working relationship up front with the operators and food service staff.
We want to ensure that all local and visiting patrons alike during Super Bowl week will have a safe and memorable dining experience. Food safety is top priority and food service workers are the first line of defense in preventing foodborne illness from occurring in Minneapolis.
NEHA: What will EH professionals be doing onsite to ensure the safety of Super Bowl attendees?
Becker: It will be all hands-on deck. Our Food Safety team will operate out of our Health Department Operations Center over the course of the 10 + day operational period. A total of 31 health inspectors from Minneapolis and local health departments will be the boots on the ground. Health Inspectors will be consulting with food service operators while conducting risk-based inspections and spot checks to ensure proper food safety is adhered to at various assigned NFL sanctioned and non-sanctioned events.
NEHA: Is there anything that would surprise the public to know about your department’s preparations for the Super Bowl?
Becker: Most people think the Super Bowl is just a football game on one day when in reality it comprises 100’s of events over the course of a 10-day operational period.
Robert V. Becker is a Senior Health Inspector for the City of Minneapolis Health Department – Food, Lodging, and Pools Division and a member of the National Environmental Health Association since 1997.
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