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Indiana Food Safety Law May Cause Hardship for Some Noncommercial Operators

INDIANAPOLIS - A new state law, effective Jan. 1, requires most food-selling establishments to provide a certified food safety handler to oversee every phase of service and cleanup.

The law is primarily aimed at restaurants, schools, jails, and day care centers and exempts hospitals and nursing homes. However, inasmuch as in its current form it extends to nonprofit groups, Clinton County Board of Health Supervisor Craig Rich believes that compliance may place a hardship on churches and civic organizations.

"The intention is good, but they didn't take into account these nonprofits," Rich was quoted as saying in the local news media. "It didn't come to anybody's attention until it was too late. This opened up a big can of worms."

Under the terms of a new Senate bill introduced this month, nonprofit organizations, those excluded from paying Indiana gross retail tax, would be exempt from the certified food handlers' law, Rich said. He believes the exemption will be approved this spring.

Until then, the state department of health has asked local enforcers to deal leniently with the nonprofits, he said.

"I'm still hammering this out with the state," he said, "but they're saying right now not to pursue anything because they think the law is going to pass."

In the meantime, Rich is concentrating his enforcement efforts on county restaurants. Nearly all are in compliance, he said.

The penalty for noncompliance can be up to $100 per day per violation, according to the law. But, Rich said, the set fine has yet to be determined locally.

First, the ordinance must be reviewed by the county attorney and adopted by the board of health.

Then it must be presented to the county commissioners for adoption. Rich indicated the process could be lengthy because the board of health meets only six times a year.

Several states have already adopted similar laws. In Indiana, the law was enacted in 2001, but legislators delayed its implementation until Jan. 1 to allow food venues time to train and test workers on aspects such as proper cooking and thawing practices.

Since fall, two standardized food-safety training classes have been offered at the Clinton County Extension Service. Another was presented at the Frankfort Community Public Library. The classes include information necessary to pass the state's safe food handler certification test, said extension Director Susan Tharp.

The courses are divided into two, 15-hour sessions. So far, 55 people have taken the classes at the extension office, she said. The course is taught by Tharp, Rich, and Dr. Stephen Tharp, director of the Clinton County Board of Health.

The extension office's next safe food handler's course will be April 11 and 18. The registration fee is $120, but participants from nonprofits may register for $99. Registration a week in advance is necessary to guarantee that books and other course materials will be available, Tharp said.

"It's very good training for anybody," she said, "and hopefully those people will train others on their staff."

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