Minnesota Church Meals, Potluck Dinners, and Bake Sales

Minnesota Church Meals, Minnesota Church Dinners

Minnesota Church Meals, Potluck Dinners, and Bake Sales

Minnesota Church Meals – Food Safety Protection

Minnesota Church Meals Food safety laws are administered by at least two state agencies:

  • the Minnesota Department of Health, and
  • the Minnesota Department of Agriculture,

and in some instances – by local city or county health agencies.

Minnesota Church Meals – The Minnesota Department of Health

According to its web site, the Minnesota Department of Health:

. . . take(s) action to control the spread of infection and illness by:

  • Detecting and investigating disease outbreaks, including E. coli infections, salmonellosis and hepatitis. . . .
  • Providing education and training to citizens and health professionals about preventing chronic and infectious diseases . . .

The Minnesota Department of Health has a duty to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Minnesota, identified in M.S. Section 144.05, Subd. 1, which provides in part as follows:

M.S. 144.05 GENERAL DUTIES OF COMMISSIONER; REPORTS.

Subdivision 1.   General duties.

The state commissioner of health

  • shall have general authority as the state’s official health agency and
  • shall be responsible for the development and maintenance of an organized system of programs and services for protecting, maintaining, and improving the health of the citizens.

This authority shall include but not be limited to the following:

(a)     Conduct studies and investigations, collect and analyze health and vital data, and identify and describe health problems;

(b)     Plan, facilitate, coordinate, provide, and support the organization of services for the prevention and control of illness and disease and the limitation of disabilities resulting therefrom;

(c)      Establish and enforce health standards for the protection and the promotion of the public’s health such as quality of health services, reporting of disease, regulation of health facilities, environmental health hazards and personnel;

(d)     Affect the quality of public health and general health care services by providing consultation and technical training for health professionals and paraprofessionals;

(e)     Promote personal health by conducting general health education programs and disseminating health information;

(f)      Coordinate and integrate local, state and federal programs and services affecting the public’s health;

(g)     Continually assess and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of health service systems and public health programming efforts in the state; and

(h)     Advise the governor and legislature on matters relating to the public’s health.

Minnesota Church Meals – When Food License Required

M.S. Section 157.16, Subd. 1 identifies when a food license is required by the Minnesota Department of Health for the operation of a food and beverage service establishment, by providing in part as follows:

Subdivision 1.  License required annually.

A license is required annually for every person, firm, or corporation engaged in the business of conducting a food and beverage service establishment, . . .

Food and Beverage Service Establishment

M.S. Section 157.15, Subd. 5 defines the term food and beverage service establishment, by providing as follows:

Subd. 5.  Food and beverage service establishment.

Food and beverage service establishment” means a building, structure, enclosure, or any part of a building, structure, or enclosure

  • used as,
  • maintained as,
  • advertised as, or
  • held out to be an operation that prepares, serves, or otherwise provides food or beverages, or both, for human consumption.

Minnesota Administrative Rule 4626.0020 Subd. 35(a)(1) identifies that a catering service is included within the definition of a food establishment, by providing as follows:

Subp. 35. Food establishment.

A. “Food establishment” means an operation that:

(1)     stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption, including a restaurant, satellite or catered feeding location, market, grocery store, convenience store, special event food stand, school, boarding establishment, vending machine and vending location, institution, and retail bakery

Minnesota Church Meals – Food Safety Exemptions

Absent a statutory exemption, a church may be prohibited from hosting an event at which food is served or sold without a license issued by either:

  • the Minnesota Department of Health,
  • the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, or
  • a municipality or county.

Uff da!

However, there are:

  • at least three statutory exemptions available to churches with respect to the licensing and inspection requirements of the Minnesota Department of Health, and
  • at least one statutory exemption available to churches with respect to the licensing requirements of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Statutory Food Establishment – Exemptions

Minnesota Administrative Rule 4626.0020 Subd. 35(c)(2) identifies that the definition of a food and beverage service establishment excludes those food operations exempted by M.S. Section 157.22, by providing as follows:

Food establishment does not include: . . .

(2)     an establishment excluded under Minnesota Statutes, section 157.22;

Minnesota Church Meals – Church Potluck Dinner Exemption

(i)      M.S. Section 157.22 (8)

M.S. Section 157.22 (8) identifies a licensing and inspection exemption with respect to food served at a Church Potluck Dinner, by providing in part as follows:

This chapter does not apply to:

(8)     food 

  • not prepared at an establishment and
  • brought in by individuals attending a potluck event for consumption at the potluck event.

(hereinafter, the “Church Potluck Dinner Exemption“).

(ii)     Attendance at Church Potluck Dinners by Non-Members

M.S. Section 157.22 (8) also identifies that Church Potluck Dinners can be open to the public, by providing in part as follows:

Individuals who are not members of an organization sponsoring a potluck event under this clause may 

  • attend the potluck event and 
  • consume the food at the event.

(iii)    Minnesota Church Meals – Advertisements Permitted

In addition, M.S. Section 157.22 (8) identifies that Church Potluck Dinners can even be advertised as open to the public, by providing in part as follows:

An organization sponsoring a potluck event under this clause may advertise the potluck event to the public through any means.

(iv)    Sponsorship of Potluck Dinners by Schools

Finally, M.S. Section 157.22 (8) identifies that Potluck Dinners can be sponsored by, and hosted at, certain schools, by providing in part as follows:

A school may sponsor and hold potluck events

  • in areas of the school other than the school’s kitchen,
  • provided that the school’s kitchen is not used in any manner for the potluck event.

For purposes of this clause, “school” means

  • a public school as defined in section 120A.05, subdivisions 9, 11, 13, and 17, or
  • a nonpublic school, church, or religious organization at which a child is provided with instruction in compliance with sections 120A.22 and 120A.24.

(v)     Prohibited Sponsors of Potluck Dinners

However, M.S. Section 157.22 (8) identifies that Potluck Dinners cannot be sponsored by licensed food establishments, by providing in part as follows:

Licensed food establishments other than schools cannot be sponsors of potluck events.

It is possible that a church may have obtained a license as a food and beverage service establishment – in which case it could not sponsor a Potluck Dinner.

(vi)    Prohibited Food at Licensed Food Establishments

Finally, M.S. Section 157.22 (8) identifies that Potluck Dinner food cannot even be brought into the kitchens of licensed food establishments, by providing in part as follows:

Potluck event food shall not be brought into a licensed food establishment kitchen; . . .

Minnesota Church Meals – Cooking Safely for a Crowd

The Minnesota Department of Health, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, has produced a publication which is titled:

University of Minnesota Extension

Cooking Safely for a Crowd

Minnesota Department of Health Partnership and Workforce Development Unit

University of Minnesota Extension Food Safety Education Team

Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop – October 18, 2011

 Participant Questions and Answers

which can be found at:

http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/food/pwdu/fsp/meetings/2011/oct18_questions.pdf

(hereinafter, the “Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop“), and which addresses issues relating to Church Potluck Dinners, and other events, including the following:

Minnesota Church Meals – Fruit Desserts

We have a fall supper every year and ask members to make fruit desserts (and we don’t refrigerate them).

Is this okay to continue to do this?

Yes.  Baked fruit pies are fine.

Although please consider requiring members bring food to view the online training.

And encourage them to properly store and transport the food items.

Minnesota Church Meals – Cookies and Bars

Members bring cookies and/or bars made in our homes and serve them with coffee before and after church.

Can we continue to do this?

Yes.

Minnesota Church Meals – Sloppy Joes

Can outside groups like a basketball tournament bring food into the church or a school building from home, e.g. sloppy Joe mix already made up and heated on site?

If you’re talking about a church setting, then outside food is fine.

If you’re talking about a school that has a license, then it is not OK.

The Food Code says that the licensed kitchen must use food from an approved source – home prepared foods are not an approved source for a licensed kitchen.

Minnesota Church Meals – Weddings, Fellowship, or Funerals Exemption

(i)      M.S. Section 157.22 (2)

M.S. Section 157.22 (2) identifies a second exemption:

  • which relates to food consumed at a church wedding, fellowship meal, or funeral, and
  • which appears to permit both:
    • food brought in to the event by individuals attending the wedding, fellowship meal, or funeral – similar to a Church Potluck Dinner – unless the church has obtained a license as a food and beverage service establishment, and
    • food prepared in the church kitchen for consumption at the wedding, fellowship meal, or funeral,

by providing in part as follows:

This chapter does not apply to:

(2)     weddings, fellowship meals, or funerals conducted by a faith-based organization using any building constructed and primarily used for religious worship or education;

(hereinafter, the “Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption“).

(ii)     Minnesota Church Meals Exemption – Effective Date

The Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption became effective on August 1, 2011, in response to concerns that the Minnesota Department of Health would shut down certain church based events at which food was prepared and consumed, unless the church:

  • became a licensed food and beverage service establishment and
  • was subject to food safety inspections.

As of August 1, 2011, faith based organizations were exempt from the licensing and inspection requirements with respect to food served by churches at weddings, funerals, and fellowship meals, providing that such events are associated with a religious activity.

The Minnesota Department of Health Guidance Document Number 062711 dated June 27, 2011, explained the Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption, by providing as follows:

Changes to Section 157.22 Exemptions Affecting Faith-Based Organizations

  1. Weddings, fellowship meals, or funerals conducted by a faith-based organization using any building constructed and primarily used for religious worship or education.

Faith-based organizations are exempt from licensure and inspection if

  • they prepare and serve food at weddings, fellowship meals, or funerals
  • when these events take place at any building (or on its grounds) that was constructed and primarily used for religious worship or education.

see http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/away/groupsfaithex.pdf

The Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop publication provides the following additional guidance with respect to the Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption, by providing as follows:

Minnesota Church Meals – Lasagna

We have congregation members that bring in food for events like funerals that need cooking (e.g., lasagna).

Is this permissible?

In most cities and counties in Minnesota this is permissible.

We would prefer that foods were prepared in the kitchen where they will be served.

If you do allow foods from home, make sure that they are transported and stored safely.

Minnesota Church Meals – Fellowship – Fundraisers

How do you define “fellowship” as in “weddings, fellowship meals, or funerals conducted by a faith based organization . . .  ”

and how do you define “fundraiser?”

There are no definitions of “fundraiser” or “fellowship meal” in the language of the law.

Nor does it make a distinction between events where there is a fee or a free will donation.

Therefore, the definition / identification of the event is up to the organization holding the event.

A “wedding, funeral or fellowship meal” held by a faith-based organization is an event defined by the organization as a wedding, funeral or fellowship meal.

Whether or not training is required, we strongly encourage organizations to have volunteers trained in food safety.

Minnesota Church Meals – Desserts

We are a church with approx. 300 members.

We serve

  • deserts following services every Sunday,
  • meals during Confirmation Classes and sometimes Bible Studies where only members are in attendance.

Do THESE events fall under the “exemption” section of this new law?

These sound like fellowship meals, which would fall under the exemption.

Minnesota Church Meals – Administrative Action – Licensing Violation

On February 25, 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health issued an Administrative Penalty Order to the operator of a catering company (hereinafter, the “Caterer – Respondent“), alleging violation of the licensing requirements of M.S. Section 157.16.

82-0900-31453 In the Matter of the Administrative Penalty Order Issued to [Respondent]

(i)      The 2009 Church Catering Event

On May 5, 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health’s food borne illness hotline had received a complaint of gastrointestinal illness from an individual who had attended the Annual State Usher’s Convention on May 2, 2009, at a church in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Department of Health’s staff interviewed nine attendees at the Convention, who reported five cases of illness.

While no particular food items were significantly associated with the illness, all cases reported consuming foods provided by the Caterer – Respondent, who had prepared two 15-pound roasts and 60 pieces of chicken for this event.

The sanitarian who investigated the complaint identified:

  • improper time and temperature practices,
  • cross-contamination issues,
  • improper use of domestic equipment, and
  • lack of a certified food manager.

The Minnesota Department of Health concluded that this was a probable food borne outbreak of gastroenteritis associated with a church convention – which by reason of the Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption – was not found to be a violation of the licensing requirements of M.S. Section 157.22.

However, since the Caterer – Respondent had prepared the food in her home, and brought it to the Church Convention, the Caterer – Respondent was cited by the city of Maplewood for violation of the city business code.

(ii)     The 2013 University of Minnesota Catering Event

On September 27, 2013, the Caterer – Respondent prepared and provided food service to a private homecoming picnic for faculty, staff, and alumni of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota (University).

For this event, the Caterer – Respondent prepared most of the food in the church kitchen of a second Church located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Respondent also occasionally used the church kitchen of a third Church in St. Paul.

For the September 27, 2013 event, the Caterer – Respondent’s husband grilled chicken, brats, hamburgers, and veggie brats in the parking lot of the third church.

As the items finished cooking, he took them off the grill and put them in a pan.

He put the pans of cooked meat in a refrigerator in the third church’s kitchen.

When he was completely finished grilling, he brought the meat over to the church kitchen and put the meat in the oven.

Other menu items were prepared in the church kitchen.

Among other safety issues, the cooking of food on a grill in a church parking lot was a concern to the Minnesota Department of Health because:

  • even if Caterer – Respondent had been licensed,
  • cooking in that manner would not have been permitted.

The Department wrote an inspection report which cited Caterer – Respondent for violating Department rules regarding knowledge of

“foodborne disease prevention, time and temperature control for potentially hazardous foods, safe handling procedures.”

The Minnesota Department of Health determined that the Caterer – Respondent’s food operation was not licensed to operate in either church kitchen.

However, on January 25, 2015, the Administrative Law Judge reviewing the decision of the Minnesota Department of Health determined that:

The Department’s testimony regarding whether it would license a food establishment to operate from a church kitchen was contradictory and confusing.

At first, one official from the Minnesota Department of Health testified that:

he would not license a church kitchen as a food establishment because they are exempt from licensing.

However, later, the same official:

. . . described a scenario in which an applicant could apply to use a church kitchen as part of its application plan.

Nevertheless, the Administrative Law Judge found that:

Respondent operated a catering service without a food and beverage service establishment license in violation of Minn. Stat. § 157.16, subd. 1.

but recommended that the Minnesota Department of Health reduce to $2,500 the $10,000 fine that it had assessed against the Caterer – Respondent.

Minnesota Church Meals – Community Fundraising Exemption

(i)      M.S. Section 157.22 (12)

M.S. Section 157.22 (12) identifies a third exemption with respect to food served at occasional church fund raising dinners or community festivals held on church property, by providing in part as follows:

(12)    food served at fund-raisers or community events conducted in the building or on the grounds of a faith-based organization, provided that a certified food manager, or a volunteer trained in a food safety course, trains the food preparation workers in safe food handling practices.

This exemption does not apply

  • to faith-based organizations at the state agricultural society or county fairs or
  • to faith-based organizations that choose to apply for a license;

(hereinafter, the “Community Fundraising Event Exemption“).

(ii)     Minnesota Church Meals – Community Fundraising Guidance

The Minnesota Department of Health Guidance Document Number 062711 dated June 27, 2011,

(hereinafter, the “Minnesota Department of Health Guidance Document“, found at http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/away/groupsfaithex.pdf),

explains the Community Fundraising Event Exemption, by providing as follows:

Food served at fund-raisers or community events conducted in the building or on the grounds of a faith-based organization is exempt from licensure and inspection, provided that a certified food manager, or a volunteer trained in a food safety course, trains the food preparation workers in safe food handling practices.

This exemption does not apply

  • to faith-based organizations at the State Fair or county fairs, or
  • to faith-based organizations that choose to apply for a license.

Minnesota Church Meals – Frequently Asked Question

A faith-based organization has a fund-raising meal (example: a fish fry) every Friday.

Are these types of events exempt?

Yes, fundraising events in the church or on the grounds are exempt if a certified food manager, or volunteer trained in food safety, trains the event food workers

If a ball field is located on the property of a faith-based organization and the organization sells concessions at the games to raise funds, are the concessions exempt?

Yes, fundraising events in the building or on the grounds of a faith-based organization are exempt if a certified food manager, or volunteer trained in food safety, trains the event food workers.

If members of a faith-based organization prepare food in their unlicensed, exempted kitchen for sale at another location, are they also exempt from licensure at the other location?

No. They must obtain a license for food sold at another location, and the food must be prepared in a licensed kitchen.

Are faith-based retreat and event centers exempt?

No, these are not fund-raisers or community events.

These centers may need to be licensed for both food and lodging.

Which food safety courses are available to a faith based volunteer in order to qualify for the exemption?

The statute language does not specifically state what qualifies as a food safety course.

Can a faith-based organization allow other groups to sell food on their property or building without a license?

Yes, as long as the event is a fundraiser or community event (example: Boy Scouts’ pancake breakfast), and if a certified food manager, or volunteer trained in a food safety course, trains the workers in safe food handling practices.

How will MDH track the faith-based organizations and the requirement that they have a certified food manager or a volunteer trained in food safety?

When a complaint is received, violations of this part of the statute will receive follow-up.

Can a faith based organization decide not to follow this requirement or not be licensed?

Faith based organizations must either follow this requirement or obtain a license.

The Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop publication provides the following additional guidance with respect to the Community Fundraising Event Exemption, by providing as follows:

Minnesota Church Meals – Hog Roast, Thanksgiving Dinner

We do also, however, serve meals for community events as well.

Example: Hog Roast, Thanksgiving Dinner.

Are these circumstances where one who is certified would be required to be present?

These types of meals would require a trained volunteer to have trained the other volunteers in food safety, or you could have all the volunteers watch the video.

Minnesota Church Meals – School Lunches, Youth Camps, Swimming Pools, and Lodging Facilities

The 2011 legislative changes created

  • the Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption, and
  • the Community Fundraising Event Exemption,

but were not intended to exempt the following activities – even if located on the property of a faith-based organization:

  • school lunches,
  • youth camps,
  • swimming pools, and
  • lodging facilities.

Minnesota Church Meals – Church Exemption Questions

The Minnesota Department of Health Guidance Document published a number of additional questions and answers regarding:

  • the Church Wedding, Fellowship Meal, and Funeral Exemption,
  • the Church Potluck Dinner Exemption and
  • the Community Fundraising Event Exemption,

by providing as follows:

Frequently Asked Questions

Are meals that are prepared on-site and transported off-site exempt (i.e., Meals on Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, etc.)?

No. Food that is prepared on-site, but transported to another location requires a license.

Are food events at YMCA or YWCA exempt?

No, the buildings that house these organizations were not built primarily for religious purposes.

Is a school or day care food service located in a building constructed and primarily used for religious worship or education exempt?

No.

Are potlucks exempt from licensure?

Yes.

 For more information, see:

http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/away/groupsfaithex.pdf

Minnesota Church Meals – Minnesota Department of Agriculture

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture web site:

Our mission is to enhance Minnesotans’ quality of life by ensuring

  • the integrity of our food supply,
  • the health of our environment, and
  • the strength of our agricultural economy.

Minnesota Church Meals – When Food Licenses are Required

M.S. Sections 28A.02 identifies the public policy of the State of Minnesota with respect to food licensing requirements – certain aspects of which are supervised by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture – by providing as follows:

28A.02 DECLARATION OF POLICY.

It is hereby declared

  • to be the policy of the legislature, recognizing that food in its various forms is essential to the health and well-being of the people of this state and that its production, processing, packaging, labeling, handling, distribution and sale may create health hazards, misinform consumers, perpetuate frauds or otherwise jeopardize the public health and welfare and in order to effect an efficient and simple form of licensing,

  • to require that every person who handles food in a manner described herein, shall obtain a license therefor from the commissioner and that all producers, processors, packagers, labelers, handlers, distributors and vendors of food, whether or not subject to licensing, shall be required to comply with all applicable rules adopted by the commissioner.

M.S. Sections 28A.03 to 28A.16 identify various food licensing requirements which are supervised by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, including M.S. Sections 28A.04, which provides in part as follows:

28A.04 LICENSE REQUIRED; CUSTOM PROCESSING PERMIT APPLICATIONS; RENEWALS.

Subdivision 1.  Application; date of issuance.

(a)     No person shall engage in the business of manufacturing, processing, selling, handling, or storing food without having first obtained from the commissioner a license for doing such business. . . .

M.S. Section 28A.15, Subd. 1 – Minnesota Church Meals – Church Bake Sales Exemption

M.S. Section 28A.15, Subd. 1 and Subd. 9 identify an exemption from the food licensing requirements of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture with respect to food sold at church bake sales, by providing in part as follows:

 28A.15 EXCLUSIONS.

 Subdivision 1.   Licensing provisions applicability.

The licensing provisions of sections 28A.01 to 28A.16 shall not apply to the following:

Subd. 9.   Community event or farmers’ market.

An individual who prepares and sells food

  • that is not potentially hazardous food, as defined in rules adopted under section 31.11,
  • at a community event or farmers’ market
  • with gross receipts of $5,000 or less in a calendar year from the prepared food items.

If the food is not prepared in a kitchen that is licensed or inspected, the seller must post a visible sign or placard stating that:

These products are homemade and not subject to state inspection.”

Prepared foods sold under this subdivision must be labeled to accurately reflect the name and address of the person preparing and selling the foods.

Minnesota Administrative Rule 4626.0020 Subd. 35(c)(2) identifies that the definition of a food and beverage service establishment excludes those church bake sale operations exempted by M.S. Section 28A.15, by providing as follows:

C. Food establishment does not include:

(1)     an establishment excluded from licensure under Minnesota Statutes, section 28A.15 or 31.56, . . . ;

A Minnesota Department of Agriculture publication – Operational Guidelines for Farmer’s Market Vendors – provides in part as follows:

Who Needs a License?

Most vendors who sell any food products

(except those who are exempted under Minnesota Statute 28A.15 sub-divisions 2, 9, or 10)

or a reseller of any food, including produce, need to be licensed either through

  • the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA),
  • the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), or
  • a Local Authority. . . .

Individuals who prepare and sell food, that is NOT considered potentially hazardous, at a community event or farmers’ market are exempt as long as they meet all of the following requirements (see M.S. 28A.15 sub-division 9):

  • Gross receipts from the prepared food items cannot exceed $5,000.00 in a calendar year; AND Seller must post a visible sign stating:

“THESE PRODUCTS ARE HOMEMADE AND NOT SUBJECT TO STATE INSPECTION”;

AND

  • Foods must be labeled to include the name and address of the person preparing and selling the foods.

Examples of foods that are not considered potentially hazardous and could be sold under this exemption would be

  • maple syrup,
  • fruit pies,
  • cakes,
  • cookies,
  • breads, and
  • lefse.

see  http://mfma.org/files/380.pdf.

The Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop publication provides the following additional guidance with respect to bake sales, by providing in part as follows:

Do bake sales (of home-baked foods) fall under the “pot-luck” exemption?

In general, bake sales fall under the (following) Department of Agriculture exclusion for community events or farmers’ markets.

Therefore, if the bake sale is at a “community event”, you post a sign, and you make less than $5,000/year, then it is excluded from licensure and regulation.

Do we need to let people know that the food sold at a fundraiser is not cooked in a commercial kitchen?

The law does not specify that notification is necessary at a fundraising dinner.

However, if non potentially hazardous items are sold at a community event (i.e., a bake sale), then the Minnesota Department of Agriculture exclusion requires notification to say:

“These products are homemade and not subject to state inspection.”

Therefore,

  • if the bake sale is at a “community event”,
  • the church posts the required warning sign, and
  • the church makes less than $5,000/year from such activities,

then the bake sale is excluded from licensure and inspection by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

For additional information on church bake sales, see  http://mfma.org/files/380.pdf.

Minnesota Church Meals – Liability Concerns

Notwithstanding the lack of any requirements for licensing or food safety inspections for events occurring on church grounds, or perhaps because of the lack of any such requirements:

  • churches,
  • persons preparing food for sale or consumption at such events, or
  • both the church and the persons preparing food for sale or consumption at such events,

may face legal action for damages in the event that anyone suffers injury or death at a church event by reason of the food consumed or sold at the church event.

That is one reason why churches should have a good liability insurance policy – which covers church volunteers who bring food to Church Potluck Dinners.

Minnesota Church Meals – Minnesota Department of Health Guidance

The Cooking Safely for a Crowd Workshop publication addresses the liability issue in the following manner:

What are your thoughts on liability issues the faith-based organization faces without licensing if illness occurs?

As we have seen with outbreaks at licensed food establishments, the issue of licensing does not seem to be a factor when it comes to liability. 

If a faith-based organization is involved in an outbreak, there is a chance the organization may be sued.

What are your ideas about liability and food safety training, if limited training happens?

We encourage any person involved in food preparation to receive food safety training.

We cannot guarantee that any amount of training will protect an organization from litigation.

The best course any organization can take is to prevent food poisoning and food borne outbreaks.

Many training resources are available, as listed on the Resource Sheet on this website.

For additional information, see  http://mfma.org/files/380.pdf

Minnesota Church Meals – Judicial Decisions

While there may not be any Minnesota case law relating to food borne illnesses resulting from church events, North Dakota and Wisconsin Courts have decided similar issues involving a nonprofit group, and a school.

(i)      North Dakota

One of the issues to be decided by the North Dakota Supreme Court in one case was determining who prepared the turkey that was responsible for salmonella poisoning at a non-church event.

Negligence action was brought by individual who suffered salmonella food poisoning after eating turkey at party.

The District Court, Burleigh County, . . .  entered judgment for plaintiff, and defendant appealed.

The Supreme Court, . . .  held that: . . .

(2)     judicial notice would be taken of historical fact that poultry has been safely cooked for centuries without salmonella food poisoning being natural consequence of consumption thereof, and expert testimony was not required to establish insufficiency of cooking method employed by defendant to destroy salmonella bacteria; and

(3)     evidence was sufficient to prove that turkey eaten by plaintiff was that prepared by defendant, and not one of those prepared by other individuals.

Leno v. Ehli, 339 N.W.2d 92 (N.D. 1983)

. . . . On January 30, 1982, [the Victim] and his wife attended a party which was put on by the Bismarck Expos, an organization of former Bismarck law enforcement personnel.

The menu for the affair, which was held at the police department pistol range, included potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, and smoked turkey.

The turkeys were purchased by the Expos, and

  • defendant [Defendant 1] and . . . [Defendant 2], another member of the organization,
  • assumed the responsibility of obtaining and preparing them for consumption.

[Defendant 1] acquired six frozen turkeys, each weighing between 20 and 23 pounds, from a Bismarck grocery store.

He subsequently delivered them on January 16, 1982, to Frosted Foods, Inc., a meat processing business in Bismarck, where they were cured and smoked.

On January 25, 1982, the turkeys were returned to [Defendant 2] and [Defendant 1].

[Defendant 1] and [Defendant 2] each took one of the turkeys to their respective homes to cook them for the party.

The remaining four turkeys were delivered to the home of defendants [Defendants 3] for preparation.

On the day of the party, [Defendant 1] and [Defendant 2] went to the pistol range early in the afternoon to begin carving the turkeys.

[Defendant 1]’s turkey was the first carved.

Soon afterward, [Defendant 3] brought the four turkeys his wife had cooked and they were carved by [Defendant 1] and [Defendant 2].

[Defendant 2]’s turkey was not yet ready for serving, so it was not carved at that time, but was placed in an oven at the pistol range.

Pieces of the [Defendant 1] turkey and [Defendant 3] turkeys were placed and mixed together in three boxes lined with tin foil.

Later that afternoon, other members of the organization began to arrive with additional food.

The meal was served in a buffet fashion during the evening.

Approximately 50 people attended the party at one time or another.

[Defendant 2]’s turkey was not carved until later in the evening after most of the people had left.

The remaining pieces of the [Defendant 1] and [Defendant 3] turkeys were given to the Sheriff’s Department after the party.

The persons who cleaned up the pistol range the following morning took the [Defendant 2] turkey to the Police Department.

Leno v. Ehli, 339 N.W.2d 92, 94 (N.D. 1983)

In a memorandum decision dated January 25, 1983, the trial court concluded that neither of the [Defendant 3]s were responsible for [the Victim]’s illness, but found [Defendant 1] solely responsible.

The court noted that although the fact that [Defendant 2]’s turkey was the only turkey that tested positive for salmonella might indicate that it was the only contaminated turkey,

“the evidence is plainly to the contrary, since … most of the people who contracted salmonellosis, including the plaintiff and his wife, did not eat from the [Defendant 2] turkey but from the other turkeys.”

The court then proceeded to examine the turkey preparation activities of the defendants.

The court found no negligence in the preparation activities of the [Defendant 3] or [Defendant 2].

However, the court determined that [Defendant 1] had failed to properly prepare his turkey, and as a result,

“[t]he existence of poisonous numbers of salmonella at the time the food was eaten was … Predictable.”

Leno v. Ehli, 339 N.W.2d 92, 95 (N.D. 1983)

We have defined “actionable negligence” as

“the existence of a duty or obligation on the part of one to protect another from injury, the failure to discharge that duty, and the resulting injury to the other proximately caused by the breach of duty.”

Carlson Homes, Inc. v. Messmer, 307 N.W.2d 564, 566 (N.D.1981).

See also, Brauer v. James J. Igoe & Sons Construction, Inc., 186 N.W.2d 459, 468 (N.D.1971).

In a negligence action, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence

  • that the defendant was responsible for some negligent act or omission, and
  • that such act or omission was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

Bismarck Baptist Church v. Wiedemann Indus., Inc., 201 N.W.2d 434, 440 (N.D.1972).

Furthermore, it is well settled that the mere fact an injury has occurred, without more, is not evidence of negligence on the part of anyone; rather, such negligence must be affirmatively established.

Northwestern Equipment, Inc. v. Cudmore, 312 N.W.2d 347, 352 (N.D.1981);

Anderson v. Kroh, 301 N.W.2d 359, 362 (N.D.1980);

Bismarck Baptist Church, supra;

Prosser, Law of Torts § 39, at 211 (4th ed. 1971).

However, proximate cause may be proved by the circumstances of a case if such circumstances permit a reasonable inference of a cause of injury for which the defendant is responsible, and at the same time exclude equally reasonable inferences of other causes for which the defendant is not responsible.

Bismarck Baptist Church, supra.

[Defendant 1] relies upon the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in Samson v. Riesing, 62 Wis.2d 698, 215 N.W.2d 662 (1974), which contains facts which are somewhat analogous to the case at bar.

In Samson, the plaintiff,

  • who had contracted salmonella food poisoning after eating turkey salad that was served at a luncheon sponsored by a high school band mothers association,
  • brought suit against 11 members of the association who had assisted in the preparation of the contaminated turkey salad alleging, inter alia, that the defendants were negligent in preparing and serving the food.

The court affirmed the trial court’s granting of a directed verdict in favor of the defendants, noting that

“there is ‘negligence *100  in the air,’ but it has not been laid at the doorstep of any defendant.”

Samson, supra, 62 Wis.2d at 708, 215 N.W.2d at 668.

Samson is distinguishable from the instant case because it appears from the facts of that case that the activities of the individual defendants in the preparation and cooking of their respective turkeys, and the making of the turkey salad, was all the same.

Thus, although negligence may have existed, there was no way of determining who was responsible for it.

In the instant case, the record reveals that [Defendant 1] and the [Defendant 3]s prepared and cooked their turkeys differently and that [Defendant 1] did so in a negligent manner.

Leno v. Ehli, 339 N.W.2d 92, 99-100 (N.D. 1983)

Lesson of the Case: At least in North Dakota, if you improperly cook a turkey at home and bring it to church, you may be held liable if people get sick from the turkey, and they can pin the blame on you.

(ii)     Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Supreme Court case, Samson v. Riesing, 62 Wis.2d 698, 215 N.W.2d 662 (1974), was cited above in the North Dakota case.

Lesson of the Case: At least in Wisconsin, if you make turkey salad at school which goes bad, you may be held liable if people get sick from the salad, and they can pin the blame on you.

Conclusion – Minnesota Church Meals, Potluck Dinners, and Bake Sales

Minnesota Church Attorney – Legal Representation of Minnesota Churches

Since 1992, Attorney Gary C. Dahle has represented a variety of Minnesota churches with respect to:

  • church mergers,
  • application for IRC Section 501(c)(3) tax exempt status,
  • bond financing for construction purposes,
  • bond “refinancing” in order to obtain a lower interest rate on church debt,
  • clergy issues,
  • employment issues,
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  • on-site day care issues,
  • probate matters,
  • property tax exemption issues,
  • real property easements,
  • real property title issues,
  • real property leasing issues,
  • school issues,
  • the sale of church real property – including property acquired by gift,
  • Minnesota Secretary of State filings, and
  • the drafting and revising of Articles of Incorporation, Constitutions and Bylaws.

Attorney Gary C. Dahle has represented churches located in the Minnesota cities of Arden Hills, Blaine, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Chaska, Corcoran, Coon Rapids, Glencoe, Mounds View, Roseville, St. Louis Park, and Wyoming.

Related Pages – Minnesota Church Meals:

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Gary C. Dahle – Attorney at Law

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Phone:  763-780-8390  Fax: 763-780-1735

gary@dahlelaw.com

Topics of Interest – Minnesota Church Meals:

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