STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
As several area firefighting crews were battling the CR 108 blaze in Burnet County in July 2018, concerned residents wanting to help did the one task they could do: deliver home-prepared food to the first responders.
But as Mother Nature raised temperatures to 111 degrees, officials made the decision to throw some of the food away. The reason? It contained mayonnaise, mustard, and other food products that can spoil when left out in the heat, and leaders couldn’t take the chance on valued firefighters getting food poisoning.
That’s when Jim Barho, the Burnet County emergency management coordinator, began thinking about how to address the balance between accepting those homemade meals and ensuring firefighters get the nourishment that’ll help them perform at their best.
The result is “Fight Bac! Keep Food Safe From Bacteria,” a free food handling seminar created by the Texas Department of State Health Services specifically for those who take the time to prepare food to donate to first responders.
The program is 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Burnet County AgriLife Office, 607 N. Vanderveer in Burnet. People interested in attending are encouraged to sign up in advance by contacting Barho at email@example.com or (512) 750-0507.
“The DSHS has put together a training program specifically for this,” Barho said. “What I’m trying to do is prepare volunteers who don’t have this training.”
• gives guidance on how to handle the food and give estimates of timeframes on how long different types of food can be safely served in field conditions;
• reveals how long food can be on ice and in coolers to be safely consumed;
• gives examples of which types of foods should be packaged with dry ice instead of ice cubes;
• and notes best ways to ensure condiments don’t spoil quickly.
While out in the field, food refrigeration beyond coolers and ice chests isn’t feasible, Barho said.
“We wouldn’t keep anything over three hours because of the containment window,” he said. “And we have no idea how long (the food) has been out before it’s brought to us.”
That’s why members of the Community Emergency Response Team encourage residents who want to donate to bring bottled sports drinks and water and single-serving food items such as granola bars and other snacks.
“Things that don’t spoil,” he added.
Barho said he began having conversations about such a seminar in mid-summer and finalized the curriculum in October. But because of the October flood and the holidays, officials made the decision to offer it in January.
The flood reconfirmed to Barho the importance of safe food handling. Much like the fires, residents were preparing food for volunteers working at homes, businesses, and around the Highland Lakes shores to remove debris, trash, and other hazards. Displaced residents were sent to shelters in different parts of Burnet and Llano counties. They arrived with very little, and some needed a place to sleep and food to eat. Concerned residents stepped up in cooking meals to ensure no one went hungry.
Barho emphasized food donations are a vital part of assisting first responders and displaced residents, and those contributions allow people to concentrate on the tasks at hand. This seminar is a way of better ensuring donated food can be safely consumed, not disposed.
“The community is so generous, and we appreciate it so much,” he said.