There are a lot of states with pretty odd laws on the books, and a lot have to do with what we put in our mouths—and in Arizona, an eating activity we’ve all engaged in is on the list of banned items: The potluck.
The state seems to make a distinction in the location and format of the potluck—they are only illegal if they are held outside the workplace, oddly. The law requires certain acceptable temperatures for hot and cold foods, as well as how and where the food can safely be handled, stored and served. Apparently this law has been on the books for a long time, but the issue came to attention after Pinal County officials shut down a trailer park potluck dinner.
But this isn’t the first time potluckers have had their luck tested owing to this law. Ginger Hickle, secretary-treasurer of Women of the Moose in Kingman, was interviewed by The Daily Miner, saying her group would hold a fish-fry on Friday nights and sold homemade pies as part of their fund-raising, but the health department came in and "got really ugly” because they couldn’t prove they had baked the pies on the premises.
There’s nothing like a fish-fry gone wrong.
And, according to one food safety expert, the law is not without its merits. “Personally, I avoid potlucks. I was unaware of any such law in a non-commercial setting. However, it makes perfect sense. Food-borne illness accrues with a time and temperature abuse or cross contamination accrues. There are very specific rules for offsite catering to avoid these risks. Every business that caters must have a health permit and be governed by the local regulatory agency, such as the County Health Department. They can be held liable and with fines and jail under severe circumstances,” says Greg McNally, FMP (Foodservice Management Professional), principal consultant for Restaurant Profit Technologies. “I believe that what you do in your own home is your business. [But] if there is a potluck at an office party, and a foodborne outbreak occurs, the business will be held liable for medical cost and more. I support this law on any city, county or state property. It’s a huge liability. Humans have been sharing meals with each other in groups since the day of cavemen. I understand and appreciate the effort to create a favorable social and economic environment. [But] based on science, potlucks can be very dangerous."
However, if you live in Arizona and love your potlucks, your secret family potato salad recipe may safely see a few summer outings after all. Mesa-based state representative Kelly Townsend has introduced legislation in hopes of allowing potluck events outside of work and it is now awaiting a hearing in the Arizona House for approval.
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