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Crosslake chili cook-off exemption bill now law

A licensing exemption to the Minnesota Department of Health’s (DOH) standards on food safety signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton on April 11 will help to restore the competitive spirit and integrity of Crosslake’s annual Crosslake Days Chili Cook-off and WinterFest SoupFest, said Crosslake chamber director Cindy Myogeto.The exemption, which went into effect April 12, will allow participants to prepare chili or soup in their home kitchens and serve it in a secondary location, provided the cooks post a visible sign that states, “These products are homemade and not subject to state inspection,” along with their name and address.

Myogeto said they will still expect participants to follow food safety best practices, including preparing recipes in a clean environment. The law requires the municipality where the event is located to approve the event and the sponsoring organization to develop food safety rules and ensure participants follow the rules.

Introduced by state Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, and championed by other local legislators, including state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, the bill was in response to participation falling off dramatically in Crosslake’s annual events, once the DOH informed organizers two years ago that the meat used in all the chili or soups must be prepared on-site or in licensed commercial kitchens.

Myogeto said this application of state law disproportionately affected cooks from retail businesses, where on-site preparation was much more of a challenge than for restaurant participants.

The Chili Cook-off and SoupFest were both designed to draw tourists to the area after the traditional tourism season is over; the chili event happens in September during Crosslake Days, and SoupFest takes place during WinterFest in late January or early February.

The chili cook-off bill added language to a pre-existing state statute that already included exemptions for weddings, fellowship meals or funerals conducted by faith-based organizations, nonprofit senior citizen centers for the sale of home-baked goods, food prepared at a secondary location for the purpose of consumption at potluck events and food served following a disaster for the purposes of feeding disaster relief staff, among others.

DOH spokesperson Doug Schultz said the exemption and the required signage does not change anything in terms of liability if someone were to get sick. He said even restaurants with dedicated food safety managers could become the target of a civil suit, particularly if there is evidence of improper procedures or cross contamination.

In a letter to the editor in the April 10 issue of the Echo Journal, Myogeto wrote that she’d searched for an example of a person who’d become sick or hospitalized from eating chili from a cook-off and was unable to find a single example.

Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.
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