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UPDATED: County Reviewing Farmers Market Health Policies

by ARLnow.com June 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm 1,898 18 Comments

Update at 2:40 p.m. — A spokesperson for the county confirms that several vendors were shut down by Arlington health officials over the weekend. As a result of the closures coming to light, the county is “conducting a thorough review of both the action and the codes/policies that apply to farmers market food safety,” says Kurt Larrick of the Arlington County Department of Human Services.

An Arlington County health inspector busted a baker and a well-known local restaurant at the Arlington Farmers Market in Courthouse Saturday morning.

The Washington City Paper reports that the stand run by Maryland-based Atwater’s was shut down because its bread loaves were not individually-packaged.

Other stands were shut down as well, including a stand featuring free samples from Ballston’s Willow Restaurant.

Willow’s stand was shuttered by county officials because the restaurant did not pay the $150 in special event permit fees required to operate the stand, according to a person connected to the restaurant. Willow runs the stand as a public service and as a promotional vehicle — they don’t actually sell anything — and can’t afford to pay the fees week after week, our source says.

  • NorthArlingtonGuy

    Loaves not individually packaged? At a farmers’ market? Shutting them down for that sounds like strict adherence to the letter, not spirit, of the law. I imagine it’s almost impossible to adhere to all of the hundreds of arcane rules in the code. If an inspector feels like he or she needs to find some violations, you’re going to get shut down.

    Hopefully, this won’t cause places like Willow to just throw in the towel on the farmers’ market.

  • Tom

    This is a problem, in general in the attempt to ‘relocalize’ our economies and enable options to the factory farming and large corporate food producers. Health regulations evolve in the context of these large, anonymous corporate food suppliers where one mistake at a factory manufacturing food sickens thousands or more. Regulations, inpections, paperwork is put in place that might be onerous for a small farmer or baker, or butcher driving them out and increasing the dominance of the large food manufacturers.

    Personally, I’d rather know the person growing and preparing my food than have some government-regulated factory manufacturing it.

  • Did I read “Arlington County officials use citations as renewed revenue source.” This is a poor way to raise revenue.

  • Mike

    Gotta love it when the “progressives” that love big government get a smack down from something called reality.

    • Linda

      Perhaps its time to turn down the Fox News.

    • Carl

      Actually, it sounds like you’re happy that a small business has been harmed by a law that was not intended to regulate farmer’s market. How very noble of you.

      • Mike

        I’m sorry for the business, but at the same time I’m glad to see the “progressives” that got denied their granoloa bread see this is what happens when the nannies run things.

        • MB

          Thus Mike’s very complicated political analysis model is laid bare: does he think it could upset a liberal? Then it’s good!

          (This also helps clarify the value of his opinions.)

          • Steve

            We need to know where we’ve been to know where we are going. The food safety regulations were an outgrowth of Progressive era policy and thinking. At a time when most food was adulterated or went bad while being transported, factory and packaged food seemed to be a solution. It was often small, local food producers (or unscrupulous distributors and retailers) working in unsanitary conditions who were blamed for contaminated or adulterated food. It is an irony that people most supportive of the local food movement are also the most supportive of a regulatory environment stifling to the creation of a local food economy.

            The ideas and concepts behind “food safety” and “hygiene” do have an origin, in my grandmother’s youth, when people of all political persuasions tended to believe in progress and doing everything the “scientific” way, which meant that canned carrots from a clean, orderly factory were considered more nutritious and safe than fresh carrots from the local farmer.

            The food safety and health rules we live with today are an outgrowth of those ideas and regulations, intended to eliminate small producers (such as ridding the cities of push cart food vendors), and favor large, factory food producers. The idea of eliminating small producers thought to be incapable of the sanitary and scientific production of food was seen as progressive by most people. These ideas have fully worked their way into our culture, so it should not be surprising to see food safety regulations applied in an irrational manner to local producers. The food inspectors are not to blame since they are merely enforcing regulations on the books. It would be helpful if they had more latitude to interpret regulations for artisanal producers, but I am not familiar enough with the regulations to know how much discretion is given to inspectors.

            As Tom is correct to point out, the “food safety” regulations were intended for factory food production and make little sense when applied to producers working in the new, local food economy and are trampling on food traditions that are hundreds of years old, such as the South Carolina hash tradition (Carolina Hash http://www.folkstreams.net/film,215). It makes little sense to individually wrap artisan bread any more than it would to require slicing and individual wrapping of artisan cheese. The idea unwrapped loaves of bread are more subject to contamination “outdoors” amounts to an absurd fear of the outdoors and an irrational insistence that the “indoors” is in inherently hygienic and controllable, something, which in reality is not practical. I often see birds flitting about inside supermarkets, insects buzzing around produce and moreover, what is to keep the grubby hands of customers off the loaves of artisan bread left unprotected by wrappers, sneeze guards and other paraphernalia of the hygiene movement in the supermarket?

          • MB

            Steve, despite the fact that I don’t at all understand why you inserted that at that point in the conversation, I think you’re dead on. The trick is to update our regulatory approach, instead of clown around on it.

  • MC

    While I appreciate the efforts of the county government to insure our welfare, I am more concerned that they have a nanny complex that stifles the needs of small businesses to offer alternatives to franchised homogeneity.

    I feel the County government is out of touch with the day-to-day realities. Too many New Yorkers running the County and applying Big City regulation tactics.

    • ACE

      Not enough New Yorkers running things here.

  • Marty

    “Willow runs the stand as a public service — they don’t actually sell anything — and can’t afford to pay the fees week after week, our source says.”

    Uh, no – Willow runs the stand to promote their restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make them out to be Mother Teresa.

    • True. That part got cut in editing for grammatical reasons but probably shouldn’t have. It’s back in.

  • chalie

    remember, shop ARLINGTON, as long as the business has been properly gouged.

  • Thes

    The loaves of bread at the Whole Foods Bakery are not individually wrapped, either (at least not before you buy them). Makes me wonder if there was inconsistent enforcement, or perhaps we don’t have the whole story yet.

  • mosprott

    We were told that it was because they were *outside* – that bakers like Whole Foods and Best Buns aren’t under the same rules because they’re indoors.

    Please understand that it wasn’t just Atwaters, it was also Quail Creek, which actually sells as much, if not more, bread at the Courthouse market.

  • LizViz

    This is ridiculous! I was there when it happened. I saw the inspector and tried speaking with him. Arlington Co’s website mentions that it wants to avoid bare hand contact with food. The farmers market bakers don’t use their bare hands to prepare an order. They use individual sheets of parchament paper to pick up the item. What is this all about really!? Waiting for the stands to finish setting up at 8am and then busting them? Ridiculous. Outrageous. What a waste of time and effort. To save me from a chocolate coissant. It was the inspector’s sole interpretation to require that all the baked goods be individually wrapped.

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