Fearing the spread of food poisoning, hepatitis and other diseases, the Salt Lake City-County Health Department will not allow food to be sold at the county fair unless improvements are made.

Problems at the fairgrounds have reached critical proportions, said Jim Currie, supervisor for health inspections. His concerns were outlined in a memo to the County Commission - part of a report on conditions at the fairgrounds.Currie said the health concerns have become "a powder keg waiting to explode, and we want to keep that from happening."

Salt Lake County officially took control of the fairgrounds Monday morning, relieving an independent fair board of much of its responsibility. The county plans to spend about $120,000 to fix the facilities.

Bruce Henderson, the county's director of park operations, said the county will make sure food can be served during the fair when it opens later this year.

"That's one of our highest priorities," he said. "We have a good history of working with the Health Department."

Currie said that although no cases of poisoning or other diseases have arisen, his office has difficulty documenting sicknesses that originated from food consumed at the fair.

The county took over control of the fair partially because of its dilapidated condition. The fair board did not receive the money necessary to keep the grounds in good shape, county officials said.

County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said the food concerns are just another in a long list of concerns the county has about the fair grounds. Commissioners will meet with the fair board soon to discuss the problems, officials said.

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Health hazards

Health Department concerns about Salt Lake County fair:

- Make-shift booths that expose food to vermin, flies and other types of contamination.

- Dirty, open vehicles used to transport food, exposing it to dust and contaminants.

- The improper storage and display of food, plates, napkins and straws.

- The lack of thermometers to make sure food is kept at the proper temperature.

- Inadequate refrigeration units.

- The use of food handlers who don't have proper permits.

- Inadequate hand-washing facilities.

- Manure that is not removed quickly.

- The inadequate control of flies

- The improper housing of animals.

- Unsanitary restrooms.