Food-safety trade-offs masquerade as ‘solutions’

My life experiences make me uniquely unsympathetic to food-safety regulations in the U.S. when they are applied to anyone other than huge food processors and/or producers.

To reveal my biases, I have eaten from street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in third-world countries countless times since I was a kid, and I tell you true: the only time I ever got significant food poisoning was during a business trip, at a five-star hotel owned by a global conglomerate where state-of-the-art food-prep presumably was the norm. At home, I use wooden cutting boards, I eat rare beef, we eat raw eggs (both from the store and from our own chickens), we eat food right off the plants from our garden, and we don’t use anti-bacterial anything in our house.

It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

Food safety rules are noble in purpose, but they seem to be enacted and enforced without sufficient recognition of the harm they do. They are not a solution; they are a trade-off, in that yes, they likely protect people from food poisoning, but they prevent people from making a living, too.

Almost everyone has the ability to make food for others, and almost everyone appreciates a convenient and inexpensive prepared meal. But the requirements that kitchens be inspected, food-prep courses be attended, licenses be procured, etc. and so-forth, increase the barriers to entry for someone who simply wants to make some money by selling food. It also makes the food more expensive by increasing overhead costs.

For people with few employment options, the regs prevent them from achieving a modicum of self-sufficiency unless they have a chunk of cash they can invest in bringing their facilities up to inspection-readiness. How willing would you be to strive toward such self-sufficiency if you looked at the state’s “Health regulations for food service establishments”? This 88-page behemoth gets down to a level of detail that is mind-numbing; just as an example, the authors felt compelled to note – in the section prohibiting the wearing of jewelry while preparing food – that a wedding band is okay “as long as one washes under it.”

It tells you how to use sponges properly. It tells you what kind of water and sewage service you need to have. You are directed as to the condition of your can openers. Your fingernails will be inspected. And that doesn’t even begin to describe how the actual food is micro-managed.

The common-sense solution is to let people sell food to other people without the government jumping into the relationship with both feet; if somebody sells food that makes people sick, food sellers either get their act together or they lose customers. Nobody has more of an incentive to avoid poisoning the public than the folks who make money from them.

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About Jamal Kheiry

Public relations consultant with experience in domestic and international journalism and public relations. At it since 1995.
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