The Knox County Health Department next week will host a free food handling class in an effort to spread awareness about the importance of implementing safe practices.

The department's sanitarian, Madeline Moon, will be hosting the class, set for 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, at Good Samaritan Hospital's Eva Hill Auditorium.

Given recent reports of Hepatitis A, Moon thought it a vital time to teach all food handlers safe practices. While the class isn't required by the state, she's hoping many will take advantage of it.

“This is just a free, basic food handling class,” she said. “We'll go over a lot of the things I see during inspections, violations that are occurring.

“I'm hoping to get people to come since it's free — and there will be pizza,” she said with a chuckle.

“They can learn and pick up on these things so that they're aware of the dangers. They can then take that information back with them to their (respective) food establishments they're working in.”

State law requires that at least one manager per restaurant hold the proper state certifications in food safety. Other states now require one certified food manager per shift, and Moon is hopeful that Indiana will follow suit soon.

For now, she's trying to spread the word about the free class in an effort to see more people made aware of the importance of safe food handling practices.

Concerns largely stem from cases of Hepatitis A that are on the rise across the Midwest, including Indiana.

Hepatitis A is usually spread person-to-person when someone accidentally consumes the stool of someone with the virus or by consuming contaminated food or water. During this specific outbreak, the hepatitis A virus has been spread only from person-to-person.

There have been more than 2,000 cases reported in Indiana so far as well as four deaths.

And Knox County, according to the Indiana Department of Health, has had seven confirmed cases.

Health officials just last week investigated a case linked to a food vendor at the Covered Bridge Festival. That vendor was from Knox County, Moon said.

This summer, the health department investigated another incident of Hepatitis A in a food handler at Buffalo Wild Wings.

County health officials, upon learning of the sick employee, closed the restaurant and worked with managers to do a thorough cleaning and inspection. No one else ever got sick.

The health department, too, issued a plea to those who dined at the restaurant on a specific two-day period to receive a vaccination during a day-long clinic. The state sent hundreds of vaccines to meet the need, and about 250 people took them up on it.

“It's important, now more than ever, that people are proactive and get those vaccinations and know how to prevent the spread (of foodborne illness),” Moon said.

The class is open to local food handlers as well as the general public; anyone who is interested in learning more, Moon said, is welcome to attend.

People can register via an Eventbrite link available from the Knox County Health Department's Facebook page.

For more information, contact the health department at 812-882-8080.

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