We often get questions and notes about rest stop food on our surveys and by email. Rest stop food planning is the second most intensive aspect of planning our event after developing bike routes. What seems like it should be so easy is extremely complicated.
Events the size of Bike Virginia require many layers of permits from various agencies include the Virginia Department of Health which governs the rest stop food and meals we serve and how these food items are served.
Here are just a few of the challenges we face:
- Homemade snacks (including peanut butter sandwiches and cookies) have to be prepared in a licensed kitchen. The only exception is for snacks for prepared in a church kitchen where it will be served on that specific church property. Churches/businesses that offered homemade goods all had kitchens inspections.
- Watermelon and other fruits such as pineapple or cantelope, etc…have to be chilled to 41* at all times. This creates a roadblock since most locations of Bike Va. rest stops are remote locations and don’t have refrigeration on site.
- Bananas, Oranges, Grapes and Apples must be cut on demand at the moment they will be served to prevent contamination.
- Snacks that are prepackaged are prefered with an event of this size utilizing the locations we use.
- We are inspected multiple times over the planning and operation of the event to determine that safe practices are being adhered.
- Water must be tested at each site.
Here is an example of a permit, each rest stop must be approved in the specific locality. We offer 20-25 rest stops in 6 days, each requiring permits.
The peanut butter sandwich as simple as it may seem, that sandwich everyone wants and loves has become the symbol for just how complicated and challenging rest stop planning can be.
Back in 2013 we wrote the blog post What’s Up Butter Cup: Peanut Butter Problems and Other Health Department Requirements on the Bike Virginia Tour.
Below is that post which explains how our event has been changed over the last few years due to growing regulations.
July 31, 2013
“Where are the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”
Over at Bike Virginia we are mourning the loss of this good old fashioned treat. And the home baked goods that used to make rest stops unique and tasty. Remember the Amish home-made donuts in 2010? Ah, man. People still talk about them.
The all time staple peanut butter sandwich on biking events may, sadly, be a thing of the past. All things do evolve, that’s something we can’t deny and health department regulations are one of those very things.
Over the years we’ve seen a variety of levels of enforcement and special requirements from the health departments in the counties we visit with the Bike Virginia tour. While the state of Virginia is the overarching Health Department the requirements and regulations are interpreted differently and enforced differently in each region. More on this later in the article.
Below is a short list of what the health department regulates at Bike Virginia:
- Campsite approval including number of showers and portable toilets and handwash stations
- Catered meals
- Food vendors
- Rest-stop food service and water supply
The catered meals and vendors are pretty straight forward. We only use licensed caterers and licensed vendors. Each business goes through an inspection at the event before being allowed to serve to you.
Camping permits can be somewhat challenging depending on the ruling health department district. In 2011 we were required to establish “camping zones” and assign each rider to a zone. A zone list was to be available for inspection to the health department at any time. Using existing campgrounds helps meet these requirements, making the process better than when we used to be at schools or other facilities.
While these other requirements demand a lot of time, and careful planning, Rest Stops have become quite the point of contention for Bike Virginia in the last 3-4 years. We are facing ever growing challenges in meeting the requirements to serve food.
Rest Stop specific issues:
- In some regions of the state all rest stop groups have to become licensed temporary caterers. The groups that we often work with are girl scouts, churches, women’s leagues, pet rescue groups, etc and the process of getting licensed can be complex. During the week of the tour, we might work with as many as 25 different groups, each with unique situations, and every single may need a catering permit. Here’s an example of the application required in one Virginia county.
- Groups that do not become temporary caterers may not be allowed to serve sliced fruit (apples, bananas, or oranges) or peanut butter that has been “prepared”. Anything that is considered “food service” can be prohibited. This regulation has been enforced at different levels in different counties.
- In one region we were not allowed to serve any home baked goods that were not packaged inidividually with ingredients on the labels.
- In 2012 we had to test all water sources for contamination prior to a rest stop being allowed to serve water to the riders.
Every year when the rest stop planning starts and we begin meeting with the health departments in the region we see what requirements will be enforced for that location.
Changes in Planning
Imagine the stress of learning that our event could not serve sliced fruit or peanut butter sandwiches??? These kinds of changes in regulations, have forced our hands on rest stop planning.What we’d always done wasn’t going to be allowed any more.
While we completely understand that such regulations are designed to protect the public from harm, we find it very difficult to meet the demands of the health and still have satisfied participants. We hear you. Survey responses reflect that you are unhappy with single serving items. That you want baked treats like Peanut Butter sandwiches and delicious cold sliced fruit. We are trying very hard to give you that.
Sadly, requirements this past year resulted in the need for much single-use disposable packaged food, including little tiny peanut butter cups served with pretzels for dipping. It’s as close as we can get to the elusive peanut butter sandwich in some of those places. I personally hate the plastic waste we generate, but can’t seem to find a way to make all parties happy.
In 2013 we made a decision to supplement the rest stops with catered food because the regulations were making it harder for community groups to be able to serve food. It was getting more challenging to satisfy the regulations and still have rest stop food that would please and meet the rider’s needs. As a result we created the “Premium” rest stops. A licensed catering company was hired to operate this portion of the rest stops. That caterer had to be inspected by the health department to serve root-beer floats and frozen bananas, and all the other delicious treats they provided riders on each of the 6 days of the tour. The added cost of needing to pay for catered rest stops was part of our decision to increase prices for participating in the event in 2013. The old way of relying on community groups to have good food just was not possible any more.
Ice Would Be Nice
We understand the strong desire of riders for ice at rest stops. We’d love to have it too.
Only ice poses a serious health risk. See, it’s highly likely to be contaminated in the handling. So we’ve been forced for years to stay away from ice. Unless it’s handled by a licensed catering company that assumes the risk for the ice, we just can’t manage it and specifically require rest stop groups not serve it.
Plans for the Future
We will continue to look for ways we can both serve delicious food with unique community flavor and meet the requirements and regulations of the health department.
Look for Premium Rest Stops again next year. I’m sure the root-beer floats will be back by popular demand.
Maybe we will offer a delivery service for those who’d like to send their own rest stop care packages out to the stops each day.
We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions on rest stops. Just visit the contact page for my email information.
Cheers, and Happy Riding