This post is a Fight Back Friday Post.
I just read an awesome, thought-provoking piece over at Jan’s Sushi Bar about a Farm-To-Table event that was practically kyboshed by the “evil agents” of the Southern Nevada Heath District.
For the sake of brevity, here is what happened:
A small family farm organized a “Farm-to-Fork Dinner” – a dinner in which they feed guests meats and produce entirely raised and grown on their farms – prepared by a chef and his staff offsite in the big city, then transported using refrigeration trucks to the site, to be served on the farm. The guests were sent out the following invitation and charged for the event:
By bringing the table to the farm we want to reconnect our guests to the land and the origin of their food and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate the local bounty that we enjoy here in the Moapa Valley. It’s not everyday one has the privilege to sit next to the person who planted the beans, raised the beef, shaped the cheese, or who milked the cow that was the source of that luscious cream on your plate.
After a tour of the farm, dinner will be served family style (or farm style). The menu will be dictated by what we freshly harvest from our farm and other local small family farms.
Join us for an amazing dining experience. The sun will set. Candles and a fire will be lit. You will enjoy live music (Bach under the stars), a magical atmosphere, great company and incredible food with a mileage footprint of 5 feet!
The event sold out, and looked to be a great success. Unfortunately, it was not to be; two days before the event, the owners received a phone call from the Southern Nevada Health District informing them that because this is a “public” event, they needed a “special use permit” or face a fine. Incredibly, the farmers complied.
On the day of the event, the heath board inspector showed up. The woman who was inspecting was on the phone with her supervisor, perhaps to get some coaching for the event, or to make sure that whatever she was about to do was within the letter of the health code.
Not surprisingly, since the items to be served were prepared offsite, then transported to the event, they were subject to the health code guidelines. Some items were not up to temperature for service (a huge no-no for those of you who are initiated in the finer points of mad inspection-passing skills.) The inspector demanded the items be discarded.
Surprisingly, they asked the inspector if they were able to save it for their families, or for their livestock. Can you guess the response? A big, “Hell No!” (The code specifically states that if the food is not to be destroyed, it needs to be held in containment until such time the health board can decide what to do with it.)
As you can guess, the whole situation devolved into a scene that would make for a good drama on Friday nights. Thing is, it didn’t have to go out that way.
The first question I would ask is, where the hell was the chef in all of this? I assume he was up to speed on the regional health code, so he would know that he was walking a fine line. Why wasn’t the food up to temperature before service? Where were the labels, etc.? What I’m also missing from this story was how everything was held. Why does the inspector demand that the items be up to temperature? How were they being reheated.
Second, why did this event need a permit in the first place? In the case of the farmers, I wouldn’t have accepted the fact that I needed the permit. There is a fine that can be associated with non-compliance, but the burden of proof is on the state at that point. That’s the time for the Farmer’s Legal defense to get involved.
By getting the permit, they basically admitted they were a food establishment, and were subject to the codes and regulations (however draconic,) laid out by the SNBH. Even if they didn’t make a dime of profit, they were still charging for the food, and to be non-profit they wouldn’t require the permit in the first place.
It states in the Southern Nevada Heath Code that a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT is:
(A) FOOD ESTABLISHMENT means an operation at a particular location that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides FOOD for human consumption which:
(1) Includes but is not limited to a restaurant, satellite or catered feeding location, catering operation if the operation provides FOOD directly to a CONSUMER, market, vending location, a conveyance used to transport people, or an institution.
(2) Includes an operator that relinquishes possession of FOOD to a CONSUMER, directly or indirectly, through a delivery service including but not limited to home delivery of grocery orders, restaurant take-out orders, or service that is provided by common carriers.
Later, it states that:
(C) FOOD ESTABLISHMENT does not include:
(1) An establishment that offers meets the exemption requirements pursuant to NRS 446.870 and is subject to the requirements of NAC 446.042.
(2) Private homes, unless the FOOD prepared or manufactured in the home is sold, offered or displayed for sale, or for compensation or contractual consideration of any kind.
(3) Fraternal or social clubhouses at which attendance is limited to members of the club.
(4) VEHICLES operated by common carriers engaged in interstate commerce.
(5) Any establishment in which religious, charitable, and other non-profit organizations sell FOOD occasionally to raise money, or in which charitable organizations receive salvaged FOOD in bulk quantities for free distribution, unless the establishment is open on a regular basis to sell FOOD to members of the general public.
(6) Any establishment where animals are slaughtered which is regulated and inspected by the State Department of Agriculture.
(7) Dairy farms and plants which process milk and products of milk, or frozen desserts, which are regulated in NRS Chapter 584.
(8) The PREMISES of a wholesale dealer of alcoholic BEVERAGES licensed in NRS Chapter 369 and who handles only alcoholic BEVERAGES which are in SEALED containers.”
There it is in black and white. You can see what I mean by checking out :http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/food-regulations/
I don’t agree with the way things were handled… but I do have to point out that the farm did contravene the health code restrictions, and were asking for a problem. I am all for legal defense for the farmer, but I am not into throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the regulations that govern a restaurant establishment codes of conduct.
By charging for the event, in my eyes it was no different than an event that I would cater – yet I would be bound by the laws of the state’s heath board to comply with the sanitation, operations codes. If I had to comply, but then a farm didn’t (because they were catering to a “private” event,) then I’d be pissed.
I’m not trying to be inflammatory here, I am trying to point out that from the get go, on BOTH sides, this was a grand mismanagement of time, energy, and bureaucratic tape. Worse, it presents a case precedent later on to show that small farms like this are not willing to comply with the state health code, and that in turn hurts the whole movement of farm to table.
My question is, what now? You can fight the law and win, but what have BOTH sides learned from this? If I was the farmer organizing an event like this in the future, I would make sure that I knew where I stood in terms of the health board. Perhaps I am speaking as a chef here – whose had to deal with inspectors making surprise visits, and kind of understands what the health code is there for.
One way to get involved is to go over to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, If you believe you have the right to eat what you want, (i.e. raw milk) then that is the place to go. If you are planning an event like what happened above, know your rights first, before there is a problem.