Hot dogs, hamburgers and other cooked food may be scarce at some high school concession stands this spring as Ingham County schools and booster clubs work to meet newly enforced state rules for safely selling food.
That means less revenue for some booster clubs, which use money from concessions for such things as uniforms, sports equipment and pay-to-play fees for students who can’t afford them.
“It puts a temporary dent in it,” said Mike Green, president of the East Lansing Athletic Boosters. “We are losing some sales with respect to a couple of different (concessions) venues. In our case, it’s baseball and a little bit of softball.”
He said the boosters grossed about $40,000 from concessions last year on all sports and cleared about half of that amount to assist East Lansing’s athletic programs.
Ingham County hasn’t strictly enforced state code on concessions stands, which requires hand-washing sinks, hairnets or hats for people who prepare food, safety training and use of food-safe practices such as dating leftovers.
Spurred by concerns over potential violations, the Ingham County Health Department conducted inspections and gave school districts until May 1 deadline to submit food license applications and food service plans to the health department, which oversees licensing, said Jim Wilson, director for the department’s bureau of environmental health.
“We are probably the last county in the state to license concessions stands,” Wilson said.
The Barry-Eaton District Health Department and the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, which includes Clinton County, have required concessions licensing for years.
Wilson said the Ingham County effort to inspect and license concessions stands began about two years ago and inspectors have logged some concerns.
In one case, he said, bulk raw hamburger was stored in a refrigerator on site and used from week to week without being dated or discarded when it was beyond the point of freshness.
In another, volunteers moved a table into a shed to take shelter from the weather while selling food. The problem: The shed was used to store lawn equipment and related chemicals.
In other cases, Wilson said, volunteers were cooking foods such as soups and chili at home and bringing them in to sell.
“We are trying to get everybody back on track,” he said.
Wilson said many of the stands did not include an extra sink for hand washing. That’s critical to preventing the spread of illnesses.
“A lot of them said, ‘We can’t run plumbing out here,’ ” he said. “But you can buy portable hand-washing sinks. You can buy portable sinks.”
He said the health department asked districts and boosters to submit menus and has been working with them to install the proper equipment and learn safe handling procedures for the foods they want to sell.
Lynna Hassenger, director of food and nutrition services for Okemos, Haslett and Williamston said concessions at all of the schools now are in compliance.
She supports the rule enforcement.
“I feel comfortable going to a concessions stand that is licensed, knowing that the people are trained,” Hassenger said.
At Okemos, she said, the menu includes such things as outside pizza delivered to the stand and kept in warmers until it’s sold as well as hot dogs, popcorn and packaged snacks.
In Haslett, hot dogs are grilled outside. That meant putting a portable hand-washing station near the grill and roping off the area.
Holt has seven concessions stands, including three for football, one for softball, one for baseball and one at Holt Junior High School, where lacrosse games take place. There’s also an inside concessions area for basketball, volleyball and wrestling.
Lori Conarton, president of the Holt Rams Athletic Boosters, said two football concessions will be licensed, but the rule enforcement might curtail what can be sold at other sporting events. For example, facilities that aren’t licensed can sell pre-packaged snacks and candy. She said football and basketball concessions raise about $26,000 a year.
Conarton is concerned the cost of licensing and limiting menus away from the main sports concessions will decrease revenue at a time when the school district is facing financial challenges.
“We’ve been asked to do more in the last few years, and if we’re getting less revenue in concessions, that means we’re going to have to do other fundraising,” she said.
She said she also is concerned that licensing and inspection fees will cut into concessions stand profits.
A bill was introduced into the state Senate this spring to exempt organizations such as booster clubs from fees if they take out temporary licenses or sell “low-risk” foods such as popcorn, nachos and cotton candy.
“It would be an exemption from the costly licensing and fees that we have to pay,” she said.
East Lansing’s Green said he doesn’t object to food safety rules.
“We’re having to make some adjustments,” he said. “Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it does provide us with a challenge to make sure that we are in compliance by some dates that came upon us a little suddenly.”
East Lansing operates outdoor football concessions, indoor basketball concessions and concessions at the East Lansing Soccer Complex, where it shares concessions with the city of East Lansing. There’s also a concessions stand at the baseball and softball fields behind MacDonald Middle School.
“We will be in compliance, and the district is already engaged in helping us to install those cooking utensils and equipment that we need,” he said. “We’re working to make sure that we’ve got someone that is certified.”