'Public' potlucks are not allowed

It's fun to go to potluck dinners with your friends, and hardly ever do people get sick. But if they do, it's not hard to find out who doesn't have a sanitary kitchen, right? But, since the public potluck feast at Ashland's International Day of Peace Saturday evening got canceled, it brings up the question: What's legal and illegal, as far as big potluck events?

— via email

We may trust our own cooking and that of our friends, but the Jackson County Health Department won't go along with large numbers of people bringing their homemade potato salad and chicken gumbo to a public event and setting it on the serving table for scores of people to consume.

The key word here is "public." Yes, it's still fine to have your church potluck. You all know each other. It's not "open to the public," as was the Feast of Peace, whose organizers simply invited the general public to bring a "covered dish" of their choosing.

No go, says Jackson Baures, public health manager for Jackson County.

"They were requesting that members of the public bring a dish from home to share. A call was made to the organizer to let them know that a public potluck is not allowed under Oregon Food Sanitation Rules (OAR 333-150, 3-201.11)."

Told of the dangers of an open potluck dinner, organizers gladly complied, made it a "community dinner," using the kitchen of the First Methodist Church and asking for donations to cover the costs, says Herb Rothschild of Peace House.

"The reason for the rule is to help prevent foodborne illness," says Baures. "It is important to clarify that the Oregon Food Sanitation Rules apply to public events, not private functions (e.g., office potlucks)."

Email questions to youasked@mailtribune.com.


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