Bill aims to legalize public potlucks

This article submitted by Erin Aagesen on 4/05/00.

On March 17, a bill passed unanimously in the Minnesota Senate which would allow potluck dinners to be held without regulation from the Department of Health. Dubbed the "hotdish bill," it has yet to leave the floor in the House.

The passing of this bill would allow people to bring prepared food to public events, a change from a 1998 bill that banned this practice.

The 1998 bill was originally implemented because of health concerns; the interpretation of state food-handling regulations did not allow for food served at public functions that was not prepared in a federally licensed kitchen. However, there are many people who believe that this kind of regulation is going too far.

"I've never heard of anyone getting sick from a church hotdish," said Rosella Williams, long-time member of Paynesville Lutheran Church.

Representative Al Juhnke and Senator Dean Johnson, both DFLers from Willmar, agree and have chosen to sponsor the new bill.

"I'm sure the Department of Health has very legitimate reasons to be concerned about the preparation and handling of food at public events, but this is a little over-reaching," said Johnson, who is also a Lutheran pastor. "Do we really want to have the state involved in inspecting home kitchens? If legislation is needed to bring a measure of common sense to this issue, then so be it."

"Minnesota is known the world over for its hotdishes," explained Juhnke, who cited the numerous books, songs, and activities which are centered around the hotdish.

Locally, there has been a tradition of dinners, such as Nordland Lutheran church's 120-year-old Mission Fest, that rely on food prepared in private homes, but recent changes have lessened that trend.

Gloria Scheel, a member of Grace United Methodist, said hotdish dinners have been discontinued in her church. She stated the aging of church members and the lack of involvement for this change as well, and not the health regulations.

Similarily, Williams said a tradition of hotdish suppers in her church have been replaced by other events-a meatball supper and a church bazaar.

Interestingly, she also said these changes did not take place because of the recent health regulations, but because of changes within the church. According to her, people have less time to devote to preparing these dishes and are less interested in it than in the past.

In her opinion, the passing of this bill would not bring the church back to the days of hotdish dinners. Still, she said, "I would like to see the bill passed. It might be a hardship for those churches that are doing (potluck dinners)."

According to an Associated Press article, the Health Department hasn't tried to stop the bill's passage, which still needs approval from the House and Gov. Ventura. Instead, they are advocating a provision to have signs posted that inform potluckers of the origin of their food.

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