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Mobile barbecue unit is cooking now

August 03, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Frank Blubaugh, owner of Frank's Stadium Tavern, has taken his barbecue chicken and ribs on the road - the Dual Highway to be exact.

Blubaugh said he and his partner Steve Parrotte spent between $5,000 and $6,000 to build "the only charcoal-fired mobile unit that's licensed by the health department" in Washington County.

"This is a prototype. This is a precedent-setter," Blubaugh said.

Since June it is been parked in a gravel lot between the Sunoco gas station and Moore's Lumber and Building Supplies on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from about 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m. unless it's booked to cater an event, Blubaugh said.

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The unit, which sits on a trailer hauled by a van, sports a three-compartment sink for washing utensils, a separate sink for hand washing and three charcoal grills.

It has running water from a 12-gallon cold water tank and a 6-gallon hot water tank heated by propane gas, Blubaugh said.

While Blubaugh is pleased with the business the mobile unit has generated, he said he can't help but resent the fact that he has spent the money "to do it right" when it's so easy for others to operate food stands unsafely and illegally in the county.

Standards vary

Nonprofit groups don't need a license and while for-profits are supposed to get licensed health department inspectors don't work weekends when most of the violations occur, Blubaugh said.

When it comes to temporary and mobile food service, standards, licensing and enforcement vary throughout the Tri-State area.

Blubaugh's license is for a permanent, seasonally operating mobile unit which has the same requirements as a restaurant, Washington County Health Department Food Services Supervisor Kent Hedges said.

The requirements differ for a temporary facility at a carnival or other event, Hedges said.

Under Maryland law nonprofit organizations that operate a food stand four days or fewer a week can opt not to get a permit, he said.

However, once they decide to get a permit they must continue to renew it, Hedges said.

Those that don't have permits can operate just as safely as those that do. "The fact that you have a food service permit isn't magic," he said.

For profit operators must pay $35 a year for permits while they are free to nonprofits, Hedges said. A list of food safety tips is given out with permits.

Since Jan. 1 the health department has issued 17 permits to for profits and 10 permits to nonprofits, he said.

Inspections

"It's basically a formality" to get a permit, Hedges said. "If you don't have the staff to enforce it, they can tell you anything."

The health department does not routinely inspect temporary food stands because of a shortage of staff, Hedges said.

While Hedges acknowledges that it would be good if every temporary food service was inspected and licensed, he said that with current staffing that would take away time needed to inspect permanent restaurants.

Right now there are 3 1/2 full-time staff members available to regularly inspect 650 permanent restaurants and facilities, he said.

And complaints about temporary food services are rare, he said.

Berkeley County, W.Va., seems to have among the most stringent standards in the area.

Temporary food stands have to have a permit to operate legally and are inspected, county health department Environmental Health Supervisor Twila Carr said.

Permits for nonprofit organizations are free, while for profit operators must pay $25 for a temporary stand permit, Carr said.

More than 32 permits to operate a temporary food stand have been issued in Berkeley County since May 1, she said.

Certain standards must be met, such as specific heating and refrigeration temperatures, Carr said.

The temporary stand or mobile unit must be screened in, she said.

Mobile units have to have a three-sink area where dishes and utensils can be rinsed and sanitized and a separate hand-washing sink, Carr said. Grills and refrigerators must have thermometers.

Carr said she goes out on weekends and holidays herself to inspect every carnival, youth fair and special event that comes to her attention.

"We're a lot more strict here," she said. "It's to protect public health."

W.Va. permits

In Jefferson County, W.Va., "anyone who is going to prepare food for the public has to obtain a permit," Health Department Sanitarian Supervisor Randall DeHaven said.

"We work overtime without pay to accomplish this. It's a very time-consuming program," DeHaven said.

Most of the temporary food facilities in Morgan County, W.Va., are set up for the Apple Butter Festival in early October, Health Department Sanitarian Rob Campbell said.

They are inspected both before and during the festival, he said.

For profits must pay $25 for a permit while nonprofits get them for free, Campbell said.

It's a $50 permit fee for mobile units, which must be inspected every half year, he said.

Under West Virginia law nonprofits are exempt from having to get a permit if the temporary food service is operating for one time only but the Apple Butter Festival requires permits, he said.

About 50 permits have been issued in Morgan County this year, Campbell said.

In Pennsylvania

In Franklin County, Pa., in those areas where the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over food services, vendors have to get a license to work any event that lasts more than two days, Regional Supervisor Lenchen Radle said.

They have to meet the same standards as restaurants and have to present a plan for how they will handle sanitation, Radle said.

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