Health department defends bleaching of American Royal barbecue, future feedings in jeopardy

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For decades groups have worked to collect leftover food at American Royal's World Series of Barbecue and give it to needy families. But it now appears that could have to come to an end.

The Kansas City Health Department ordered 700 pounds of barbecue it found from the event at a community food kitchen Wednesday to be tossed in dumpsters and covered in bleach. That figure now stands at more than 4,000 pounds as all food collected from the annual event has been destroyed.

The Kansas City Health Department says it had no idea these collections and donations were going on at the Royal every year until a chance inspection this week at Hope City.

Images of even the award-winning barbecue doused in bleach in a dumpster have sparked outrage among barbecue lovers and people who volunteer their efforts to feed Kansas City’s needy. But health officials say it was the only option.

“All of that food was uninspected, so that makes it from an unapproved source, it can not be served to the public," Kansas City Health Department Operations Manager Joe Williamson said.

The barbecue was cooked by some of the best teams in the world at last weekend’s American Royal. It was collected by Harvesters Community Food Network and Kookers Kare, a charity specializing in barbecue relief.

“We’ve had a great partnership and we’ve been able to collect that food over the years. However, in recent years food safety regulations have gotten tighter and more strict and continue to change,” Harvesters Director of Communications Sarah Biles said.

“Was it held at the proper temperature when it was collected, when it was transported, how was it transported, stored, stacked these are all questions we couldn’t answer and no one could tell us,” Williamson said.

Kookers Kare President Gary Benham said the utmost care for food safety was taken in both the collection and storage process. His organization wasn't contacted at the time of the inspection.

Friday, Harvesters had to destroy the meat and sides it still had on-site and instruct partner agencies to do the same, meaning about 3,000 pounds of meat and 1,200 pounds of sides from this year’s American Royal will go to waste.

Benham said more than 3,000 people will go hungry this week as a result.

Williamson countered, “3,000 people a year die of foodborne illness, so this is nothing to play with, it’s very serious.”

Harvesters says it plans to work with Kookers Kare and American Royal to see if there’s any way they can collect barbecue team’s extra food next year. But with the health department's stance that teams cooking on site don't need to be permitted and so many questions about the source of the meat left unanswered, future donations seem unlikely.

“Did someone slaughter a hog or a cow from their home property, was it done under a USDA or state inspection? We don't know," Williamson said.

Kansas City Barbeque Society co-founder Carolyn Wells said she's "disappointed all that good barbecue had to be wasted."