Inspectors ensuring food safety at Riverbend Festival

Inspectors ensuring food safety at Riverbend Festival

June 9th, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Chicken on a stick, Polish sausage and calzones of any kind can be eaten at Riverbend with no fear because the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department's environmental health inspectors are on the job.

"[Most people] don't know we're there, but we're watching," said Lowe Wilkins, one of seven inspectors manning food service at Riverbend.

They will be on site day and night checking refrigerator temperatures, food storage and handwashing techniques.

Bacteria causing most illnesses concerning food consumption is caused not by the food, but by improper handwashing, said Wilkins.

He won't say if any of the dozens of food vendors have ever had a permit revoked, but he did say that if a health inspector finds a problem vendors are expected to fix it immediately and they do.

But not many problems occur, he said.

Wilkins has been the inspector at Riverbend for most of the 32 years that it has operated. Vendors like Julie Lewis, who staffs the Fun Time Foods concession, greet him by name, and Wilkins knows at least a half-dozen people in David Harvell's family. They all operate food concessions at the festival.

These are professional vendors, said Wilkins. They know the rules. Instead of old-fashioned tents that don't have hot and cold and running water, most vendors come in mobile food units with built-in cooling units and running water.

Barbecue ribs, hot dogs on a stick, ice cream and nachos are among the food choices lining concessions row.

Volunteer Brenda Bernard, of Bridgeport, Ala., opts for the Cajun food at the festival and has a 15-year history of attending and eating without ever getting sick.

Randy Buckles, the festival's director of operations, said he's been eating at the festival for nearly two decades. He's consumed blooming onions, pronto pups, pizza and chicken on a stick. He's never eaten a food that he didn't like and he's never gotten sick from eating it.

"Health inspectors are here every day, and they spot check every night," he said. "They do an excellent job of keeping everyone safe."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.