From the Lenten luncheon to the chili supper to the concession stand at the ball game, community meals are vital in every city, big or small. They provide a time to gather with friends and neighbors and sometimes to raise needed funds. But, proper food handling is imperative to ensure that the food is safe.

Preparing food for the public, whether at a volunteer group fundraiser or at a restaurant, often means dealing with larger quantities of food than those used at home. With larger amounts of food, different food practices and special attention to detail become critical to prevent foodborne illness.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that foodborne illness causes approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Each foodborne illness incident is estimated to cost an average of $77,000.

To improve food safety in our area, the Finney County Extension Service will team up with the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association and Pioneer Health Network to offer a short course training session for food handlers.

The Servsafe Starters Food Safety Short Course will be held on March 23 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at St. Catherine Hospital classroom one. This class covers the basics of safe food handling including proper food temperatures, personal hygiene, preventing cross-contamination and cleaning and sanitizing. I will serve as the course instructor. Class size for the classroom at St. Catherine is limited to the first 40 to enroll.

The class also will be simulcast to partner hospitals of the Pioneer Health Network over their interactive TV system. This ITV system reaches rural hospitals throughout southwest Kansas. Please call for contact information regarding class availability outside Garden City.

The cost for the Servsafe short course is $6 per person and the registration deadline for all locations is Friday.

Preparing food for the public, whether at a volunteer group fundraiser, hospital or restaurant, can be a profitable and rewarding experience. However, safe food practices and special attention to detail are critical to prevent foodborne illness. For more information about this and other Extension food safety education, call me at the Finney County Extension Office at 272-3670.

For more information on food safety topics, see my blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.