When it comes to health and safety codes, most people — business owners and customers alike — are grateful to have government agencies that oversee and regulate the distribution of food products. After all, customers typically aren’t allowed to go to the back of the house at their favorite restaurants to see whether or not rat droppings are cleared from the food prep area; nor are all restaurant owners, perhaps, aware of all the rules that have been set in place because they had led to bigger problems, such as lawsuits, in the past.
Take, for example, the warning label on McDonald’s hot coffee. Because a woman was burned by scalding hot coffee, warning labels and regulated temperatures are now ways business owners can protect themselves from lawsuits and bad reputations in the future, thanks to health inspectors upholding the temperature rule.
Ordinarily, having a local health department and health inspectors to ensure that business procedures meet high standards is a win-win situation for everyone. But not so much is the case of B & B Do It Center in Camarillo versus the Ventura County Environmental Health Division. It was reported last week that the hardware store had to shut down its complimentary coffee and doughnut operation for its customers as well as its barbecue because it failed to comply with the county’s safety and health codes, i.e., it lacked the required stainless steel sinks and prep kitchen in order to serve food. The health inspectors came on behalf of an anonymous tipster.
While people who heard of the story believed it to be a joke, upon arrival at the store, that beloved pink box full of sweet, fluffy treats was no more. The main culprit of this issue, however, was the barbecue, and the coffee and doughnuts were just casualties. The manager of community services for the county’s health division relayed that the regulations were state codes, and that everyone who served the public food had to follow the same regulations.
While for some businesses the fight isn’t worth it, others have been able to work their way around ridiculous regulations. Take, for instance, We Olive in Downtown Ventura. We Olive, a gourmet specialty food store, thrives on customers being able to sample its olive oils and various food products. When the county health department told the store owners they needed to install a full restaurant-sized, three-compartment sink (it already had a smaller three-compartment sink), despite the fact that none of the other six We Olive stores at the time in California had to follow the same standards, the store owners decided to push their cause all the way to Sacramento. With help from the We Olive corporate office, the local store owners obtained a variance that enabled them to install nothing more than a pressure-sprayer — an item that the county had already agreed would be sufficient before mandating the restaurant-sized sink be installed.
We Olive wasn’t the only one who faced such challenges — another local retailer (not a restaurateur) who wanted to offer samples to the public was also told to install large stainless steel sinks. Although the health department and the store owner finally reached a more reasonable agreement, similar situations such as these happening again with other proprietors are very likely.
We encourage any store owner (or entity, for that matter) to contact the appropriate local supervisor or legislator if the county health department should unfairly hamper the way you earn your livelihood or the way you conduct business. While we understand that the health division is necessary, enforcing certain rules is just ridiculous, and our elected officials should be aware of it.