New London — Before festivalgoers eat their first clam fritter, cheese steak slider or fried dough at Sailfest this weekend, the vendors who sell these delectable delights have to go through a thorough inspection to ensure that the food they serve is being properly handled and is safe to consume.
Sanitarians from the Ledge Light Health District began two days of inspections of he more than 50 food vendors on Friday.
Sanitarian Matthew Payne said he goes through a food service checklist before he issues a temporary permit. He makes sure that each vendor has gloves, hand towels and a supply of potable water. He checks that the temporary dish-washing station — which consists of a water bucket, a rinse bucket and food-grade sanitizer bucket — is properly set up.
At the Custom House Pier Friday morning, Payne paid a visit to a booth manned jointly by the State Street Saloon & Smokehouse and Harp & Dragon.
He used a digital thermometer to check a cooler containing marinades and another holding tartar sauce and cheese. All were being stored at safe temperatures.
Payne noted that cold food should be kept at 45 degrees or cooler, while hot foods must be maintained at temperatures above 140.
"It's all about keeping the public safe," Payne said. "We don't want anybody to get sick."
Scott Capano, whose family runs both the smokehouse and Harp & Dragon, said it was the first time they were participating at Sailfest. He said he is used to the inspection process, though, because they own restaurants and have participated in other outdoor food events.
"It's all about checks and balances," Capano said. "We, just like them, want to make sure that everybody is safe. They are here to work with us, not hurt us."
Vendors already licensed by the district do not have to pay for a temporary food service permit for any outdoor event. For-profit establishments must pay $55 — nonprofits, $25 — for temporary permits. The permits are good for 14 days.
Maurice Beebe, owner of the North End Deli in Groton, is an old pro at the inspection process, even offering Payne a test strip to inspect the concentration of his sanitizer bucket solution.
He has been participating at Sailfest for at least 16 years and said the key to serving food outdoors is organization.
He cooks and then freezes sausage ahead of time and portions his frozen fried dough in individual bags so it stays fresher longer.
"We're local," Beebe said, "and the last thing you want is for your customer to have a bad experience ... because people don't forget."
Stephen Mansfield, deputy director at Ledge Light, said customers at events such as Sailfest often take for granted that the food they are eating is safe.
"There are so many people in a concentrated area eating from non-traditional food service — not the brick and mortar establishments," . "It's more difficult and risky to have temporary events ... that's why we put such an emphasis to make sure everything is up to code."
The vendors also must have on site a qualified food operator, Mansfield said, a person who has completed an approved food-safety training program. He added that food inspectors like to check vendors right around the time they are about to open because it gives the most accurate picture of how the food is being handled and whether sanitation procedures are being followed.
He said the Ledge Light district has 700 licensed food service establishments and conducts 1,000 inspections a year.
"All we do is an inspection. It's really the responsibility of the establishment to ensure that protocols are followed throughout the event," Mansfield said.