BY KATE PERKINS
Fewer businesses will be competing in this year’s chili cookoff, part of the annual Crosslake Days celebration, because of clampdowns by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
The MDH is requiring that all meat for the chili be prepared on-site or in a commercial kitchen.
If the meat is prepared in a commercial kitchen, it must be brought up to a temperature of 165 degrees at the site where it will be served. The chili must be prepared at the serving site, according to MDH rules.
This will make it difficult for competitors to begin cooking their chili ahead of time.
Cindy Myogeto, of the Crosslake Chamber of Commerce, said chili needs ample time to simmer. Because the chili tasting begins at noon Saturday, Sept. 29, there will be little time for the chili to stew.
“Flavors of chili don’t meld in a couple of hours,” she said.
And, Myogeto said, businesses are passionate about their chili.
“This isn’t your run of the mill chili competition,” Myogeto said. “People take it seriously.”
Though many restaurants compete in the chili cookoff, they’re not always the winners. And, the judges of the chili are culinary experts, Myogeto said.
The new rules make it difficult for non-restaurant owners to conform, as many of them don’t have access to a commercial kitchen or would be required to purchase meat from a commercial kitchen.
This year there will be 15 businesses competing in the chili cookoff, down from the 22 competitors in the event last year.
Peter Lindell, sanitarian supervisor for the MDH, explained that there’s a temperature range in which bacteria grows and multiplies. It’s referred to as the “danger zone,” between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Meat that is cooked in a commercial kitchen and then refrigerated takes a trip through the danger zone, Lindell said. Heating it to 165 degrees ensures the meat is safe to eat.
“The biggest thing is safety,” Lindell said.
Lindell said that improperly handling or cooking food could lead to the spread of illness. He cited the death of a Longville woman in 2006 who died of E. coli from a dish at a church function.
Lindell said the laws are not new, and these procedures should have been implemented all along. It’s possible the health department will visit competitors at the chili cookoff to check compliance.
In the case of former competitor Bart Taylor, who made chili to compete on behalf of his employer, Riverwood Bank, the restrictions will prevent him from competing.
Since he’s no longer competing, he spilled that his secret ingredient is smoked pork shoulder and beef brisket. It’s an ingredient he smoked in his backyard smoker over a long period of time. Because there’s no way for him to produce that, based on MDH guidelines, he won’t be competing.
Taylor is outspoken about his frustration with the health department. He deemed himself a “chili athlete,” and said the chamber is being “strong armed by the Minnesota Department of Health.”
“Living in America is all about choices,” Taylor said, adding those choices include what foods to eat. “Ultimately, do we really need the Minnesota Department of Health between us and our chili?” he asked.
Taylor believes that, for a town charity event, he should be able to cook his chili the way he always has.
The MDH rules apply not only to Crosslake Days but all special events, including the Nisswa Fall Festival and Crosslake Winter Fest and Soup Fest.
The Crosslake Days chili competition will go on, with ballots collected for the people’s choice award for best chili and awards from official judges.