After multiple cases of salmonella were reported after last year’s Belleville Chili Cook-off, organizers say they are taking extra precautions for the 34th annual event in downtown Belleville on Friday and Saturday.
Wendy Pfeil, executive director of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, said even though the sickness was never tied to a particular vendor, they decided to have all vendors submit their food-handler certificates or attend a food handling class as a precaution.
The St. Clair County Health Department’s director of environmental programs, Sharon Valentine, said after a year of investigation, it is still unclear if the outbreak even originated at the cook-off.
“We have done a lot of work this year in this case. We know it was spread throughout the cook-off area, but we don’t have any way of knowing if it actually was food at the cook-off or someone walking around in the area,” Valentine said.
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Just in case, however, the St. Clair County Health Department has required vendors to attend one of four food-handling classes in order to compete in the cook-off. Vendors who already have a certified permit with the county did not have to attend a class but were sent the information provided in the sessions, Valentine said.
Besides the classes, the health department also changed certain rules at the event. They increased the number of hand-washing stations and will not allow vendors to use hose water to fill double-boilers. Instead, vendors will have to bring their own water that is safe for drinking to fill containers in case water splashes into food.
Pfeil said the health department will also be on site both days to make sure all the food is safe.
“We’re not anticipating any issues; it’s just an added layer of protection,” Pfeil said.
Last year, less than a dozen cases of the food-borne disease were reported to the St. Clair County Health Department in the month following the cook-off. Individuals included some from St. Clair County, other area counties and at least one from Missouri. Those individuals said they attended the chili cook-off.
Last year, 60,000 people attended the two-day event. Pfeil said this year, more than 40 food vendors are signed up to compete in the chili competition and more than 60 total vendors will be at the event in downtown Belleville.
The event will feature live bands, a 5k run, children’s activities and a “Junior Idol” singing contest over the weekend.
“We have a beautiful downtown area and this event is a community favorite,” Pfeil said. “It’s a generational thing where generations of families have come to the cook-off. The atmosphere is wonderful.”