Health department raids community picnic and destroys all food with bleach
We were told our food was unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event...The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely. The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good. And then, …for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down. As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.
Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved. I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit.” If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine. Stunned, we immediately complied.
We were in the middle of our harvest day for our CSA shares, a very busy time for us, but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee. (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?) Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out. She came literally while our guests were arriving! In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals.
The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.
We were told our food was unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because:
- Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them. (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.)
- Some of the meat was not USDA certified. (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)
- Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)
- Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.
- We did not have receipts for our food. (Reminder! This food came from farms not from the supermarket! I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)
The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the foodI can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can. Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away! I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food. We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day. (A personal family choice to use our own food.) We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health. I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).
I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs. (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food. We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.) Again, a call to Susan and another negative response. Okay, so let me get this right. So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?! Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals? Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.
Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death. Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill! At some point in all of this turmoil Monte reminded me that I had the emergency phone number for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on our refrigerator. I put it there never really believing that I would ever have to use it. We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion. The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America! May I mention that not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms! The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment! Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown! I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates.