Los Angeles Business Journal

‘Safe’ Food Bill Half-Baked?

OPED: Assembly measure could allow proliferation of unsafe and unsanitary home businesses. By ALEXANDER AUERBACH Monday, March 19, 2012

Will Gatto’s bill require “cottage chefs” to carry liability insurance?

Consumers don’t see the rigorous steps commercial kitchens take to safeguard the purity of their products and the cleanliness of their production. These kitchens use stainless-steel appliances, work surfaces, utensils, mixing bowls and other items that can be easily and thoroughly cleaned.

Workers in commercial kitchens wash their hands thoroughly and often with germicidal soaps. They wear hairnets that cover their heads and, if they have beards or mustaches, facial nets as well. They are not allowed to work if they have a cold or other contagious illnesses.

These kitchens have high-capacity refrigeration systems that can quickly chill cooked foods to a safe holding temperature. The average home refrigerator won’t be up to the task for a busy artisanal chef.

Many commercial kitchens also have on-site microbiological labs that continually test the items produced to ensure that, if contamination does occur despite all the safety procedures, it is detected quickly and kept off store shelves.

If artisanal chefs cannot afford $100 or $200 a day to rent commercial kitchens, as the assemblyman believes, they are unlikely to bear the cost of having labs regularly test their output.

One final not-in-Mayberry concern: The assemblyman assumes that artisanal chefs will use responsibly the freedom from supervision the law would allow. But what about the less-ethical entrepreneurial “chef” who enlists two, or five or 12 low-income neighbors on his block or in his apartment building to do piece-work baking all day and into the evening in their home kitchens, perhaps with the help of young children? This kind of exploitation is hardly unknown in Los Angeles.

Cooking and baking can be wonderful avocations as Stambler’s enthusiasm demonstrates. But when a chef’s products leave the home and enter commerce, consumers have a right to expect that they are as healthy and safe as everything else on a store’s shelves.

Alexander Auerbach operates the Alexander Auerbach & Co. public relations firm in Sherman Oaks. He also serves as a director of an L.A.-area food manufacturer.

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