Friday, May 28, 2010

Health Code Regulations Trap Good Guys as Well as Bad

I recently raved on Chowhound about an exemplary yogurt brand from a small Connecticut farm. Someone replied by noting that the farm's operator had been charged with multiple health code infractions. I'll reprint my response here, because it applies well beyond this one example (even, really, beyond food):
I noted that CT inspectors are "tough". And that can also breaks the other way, into inane niggling and inflexibility. For example, you will never find unrefrigerated mozzarella cheese in CT, even from those who make it fresh daily and store it, properly, in cool water. Perfectly healthful, but the code says you refrigerate dairy products, period.

It's important for the general public to remember that operators with poor health violation records are not necessarily cynical pigs doing disgusting things in blithe disregard for the suckers who buy their food. There ARE such operators, and health laws are intended to thwart them (and do a great job), but they also catch some conscientious operators in their nets - operators who are trying to use perfectly good, perfectly safe methods that happen not to adhere to the letter of the law.

Ironically/tragically, such operators tend to be more conscientious operators than average, because they stubbornly insist on following non-standard protocol, and there's a fine line between "non-standard protocol" and "artisinal methods".

The standard protocols, after all, are created according to the chain model, because that's the dominant modern industry standard. Nobody at the DOH is working to build in flexibility to accommodate small batch traditional methods....much less eccentric trail-blazing methods. And violations are charged to the letter, not the spirit of the law. That's the only way it can be; we can't expect inspectors to be wise greybeards invested with broad powers to bend rules according to their superior judgement. That's not how enforcement works - nor should it work that way.

All this said, this may be a sleazy, cynical operator! But the sublime flavor of his product makes it impossible for me to imagine that. And, being a devoted chowhound, I go with what my palate tells me.


joshi said...

it is ridiculous, innit?

its all about corporations - that totally un-food yellow piece of plastic stuffed with god knows how many chemicals is all right, but young cheese made from unpasteurized milk is verboten - even though the europeans have easily demonstrated that the risks are non-existent.

there should be a law: no legislation if the risks are statistically negligent. for goodness sake, i remember there was discussion about banning softly fried eggs in new jersey about the time i left for the uk (2000).

Anonymous said...

here's a
table of raw milk pathogen outbreaks pulled from wikipedia Raw Milk

interesting to integrate that table with your perspective to see how many bad people are in the milk business. Why, I'll bet we could separate those bad folks right out by some form of profiling! And also how statistically negligent pathogens are... in a world of pasteurized milk. Not just trapped by regulations, the same good guys, as well as bad, turn out to be protected by Pasteurization.

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