I am in San Francisco today to visit with a client who is still suffering the devastating impact of an E. coli O157:H7 infection fifteen months after first becoming ill.  She still remains hospitalized – today in rehab, but a few days ago in was in ICU.

Checking my emails this morning, I found this one that I thought I would share with readers.  The person who wrote it will be checking back here for your thoughts.

Dear Mr. Marler & Associates,

Thank you for the work you do. I found your website as I am preparing to teach a food safety class to the church that I attend and am a member of. I have worked in the food service industry in a wide range of jobs from prep cook to executive chef and I’ve taught culinary arts to high school students. I am a certified ServSafe instructor. Currently I am a stay at home mom and personal chef and I am very involved in my church. We are growing and have close to 200 regular attenders. I am writing you because I want to know if you have any specific information that I should relay to the members of the church who prepare food.

The class is this Saturday and I will be preparing for it through this week. We have a lot of well intentioned people who have no idea what the safe food practices are. It is going to be the most
challenging class I’ve ever taught since most of those in attendance are much older than I am and have been handling food the same way for years.

I thank you for the video clips. I plan on showing a couple of them to relate the relevance of this issue. I also thank you for all of the information on your site.

Where we are, we aren’t under the local food codes because churches are exempt. I would think that is not a good idea and there should be some tightening of that law to include "churches who serve food to more than ‘x’ guests are not exempt." Do you have experience with churches being sued? I explained to the board at our church that we can still be sued even though we don’t have to follow the regulations.

Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you soon.

  • As Mr. Marler can tell you, a church in Longville, Minnesota was sued by the meat producer (Nebraska Beef) after a foodborne outbreak that resulted in one death.
    But I am writing for another reason.
    The Minnesota Department of Health refers its licensed and unlicensed (most Minnesota churches) faith-based establishments who want or need food safety training to the University of Minnesota Extension Food Safety Education Team(see URL). Extension provides low-cost “Cooking for a Crowd” workshops for churches and other organizations. Team members go to the church or community location and provide this excellent service, based on the USDA/FSIS Cooking for Groups Volunteer’s Guide.
    There are many regulators and consumers in Minnesota who are concerned that these kitchens are not licensed and inspected … but this is remains a difficult, political issue. Extension’s “Cooking for a Crowd” workshops are available to all but cannot serve the entire community of uninspected and unlicensed faith-based organizations in our state.

  • 1. Do not allow them to prepare all of portions of the food at home.
    2. If ServSafe is too much to handle, have them all apply for and attend the class to get a food handlers card or certificate.
    3. Make liberal use of posters/notices in an many languages as necessary reinforcing food service to reinforce the basic rules.
    4. Introduce relevant HAACP procedures with a clear explanation as to why each is important.
    Bottom line: Teach and preach professionalism!

  • Hi the comments so far a right on target, The sopecific menu items of concern should be the focus for this grouo. Use the menu to determine the receips then develop standard operating procedures for each item. Then verify through monitoring that your standards are met and meet the food code. Document everything even down to the calibaration of thermometers.

  • Penn State Cooperative Extension’s ‘Cooking for Crowds – A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety’ curriculum is available at
    We use this program to train volunteer organizations throughout Pennsylvania.

  • Jeff lewis

    I’ve taught our short (6 hour) food safety course in our jurisdiction a few times and it is tough to fit what they need to know in that time, never-mind the resistance you may get from some of these people. My advice is to establish a core of knowledge with the related good and bad (or prohibited) practices in these two general areas:
    1. Source of food – all food should come from licensed facilities or, at least a place with supervised personnel and equipment and that has the capacity and the processes in place to make all the food safely.
    2. Personnel Health & Hygiene (i.e. handwshing, glove use)
    In my mind, the above are primary concepts with all the other information serving a supporting role.
    This is probably not the way the Serv-Safe course is organized, but I think cutting to the chase with the volunteer population is a necessity.

  • Keith Norman

    Good Evening:
    I also volunteer here in Las Vegas and have done several workshops, while I would agree with everything said almost no one in my groups have thermometers at home nor doe they know minimum temps, I think that is also key.

  • This is an issue that is just going to keep growing due to the economy, the high unemployment and foreclosures going on in the country.
    In turn, the revenues that pay for the inspections are dwindling.
    Starting July first here in Florida, the state has discontinued health inspections at nursing homes, daycares and, hospitals which are the highest at risk population.
    I don’t think the churches or any other local volunteer group is going to be on the radar until and outbreak occurs.

  • Tammy Sue

    Food Safety can be a big hurdle for people who have been cooking for a long time “without making anyone sick.” I think you have the right idea to show some of the videos posted by Mr. Marler. I would show a video at the beginning of the training to grab attention and one at the end to cement it in. I also use http://www.fightbac.org/ to help train. It is fun, easy to understand, and easy to remember (even for the most stubborn cook).
    Good luck.

  • Yes, despite the lack of requirements, churches can and are sued if they poison people.

  • Andrea Ezell

    Thank you everyone for your comments, suggestions, and materials. I have been busy doing a lot of research. I think I will use the program from Penn State. I like the hands on activities that will help them to visualize cross contamination and the growth of bacteria. That stuff is awesome!
    I couldn’t believe that Nebraska Beef sued that church. Are they insane? What would the realistic risk be if the church that I go to is sued? I want to have the numbers for them when they ask.