What’s the Big Deal?

I haven’t blogged in a while (months) and I suppose that’s because, for me, blogging means feeling strongly about whatever topic I’m writing about. There’s been plenty of “strong topics” in the time since I last checked in, but most were of the ordinary sort; career, time spent with friends and my love, a health scare for my ancient dog (he’s fine again, being 16 is still his biggest problem, which is to say – not much of a problem!). There was also the Very Big Deal health issue for my amazing man, which came as a complete surprise for us all. That was/is not my story to tell and the only kind of talking that got my head on straight about it was the talking with my closest girlfriends whose wisdom and support allowed me to actually be helpful and not a sobbing ball of snot the entire time. So, yeah, no blogging.

But – the dog is fine, the man will be and now it’s back to topics like; is imitation REALLY the highest form of flattery? Or are they just lazy, shady, and a potential danger to the community? Hmmmm…..

In the state of Florida, as in most if not all (?) states, it is illegal (let me repeat that – ILLEGAL. Against the law. Unlawful. A Crime.) to prepare food for sale in your own home. Cottage laws vary from state to state, but in Florida, you ARE allowed to bake and can sweet vs. savory goods, such as jams and jellies. You CANNOT (legally) set up a homey little business selling pork chop dinners or platters of fried mullet, no matter how much mullet your fishing addicted spouse continues to bring home. But, we’ve all seen it being done, haven’t we? What’s the big deal? She seems like a nice lady! He’s a single father looking to supplement his income and bolster his dreams of having his own food truck. Down with Big Brother, we’re the land of the free!

Except…..where is that nice lady buying and storing those pork chops? Has she EVER calibrated her oven, and does she actually have ROOM to safely store meals in her apartment-size fridge? Does he have a cat? Kids who don’t wash their hands thoroughly during potty training and then run their hands along the same counter where he just dropped and reclaimed a piece of carrot that went into your meal? And then there’s delivery! It’s Florida, you may not have noticed, but it’s warm here. Very warm. When that nice lady delivers your chicken dinner how sure are you that she managed – or bothered – to transport it at optimum temperatures? If she doesn’t have commercial grade coolers in the back of her Acura, odds aren’t great that your meal arrives untainted.

A fellow chef just went through weeks of hell because after catering a large event, half of the attendees came down with Rotavirus (https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/index.html) and as the caterer, she was blamed. After months of testing, she was cleared as she has rigid standards for food handling in place for all of her employees, and as it turns out a guest used the restroom, returned to the buffet line and put their improperly washed bare hands on enough food to sicken 90 people. Literally – shit happened.

This is why there are regulations covering adherence to sanitation guidelines in any facility that LEGALLY sells food.

Recently I logged on to Facebook to discover a local woman was advertising homemade meals for pick up and delivery in my town. She had drawn up a snappy ad that looked virtually identical to my marketing materials, made a weak change to my tagline to use as her own and titled her ad with my business name – minus one letter. Her first name even begins with the same letter as mine so when she adds “chef” in front of it, golly, the fun we could have with mistaking one for the other!

As I have had my business since 2000, adhered to the rules and regulations of the areas I’ve operated in, maintained food safety certifications, carry insurance to protect not only myself but my clients and just in general try my best to be a LAW-ABIDING citizen, I found this to be upsetting, ahem. I sent her a respectful, but emphatic letter, detailing my concerns, pointing out that she was doing something illegal (maybe she didn’t understand the guidelines given on the state board of health’s website?) and asking her to at least change the heading on the ads for her illegal business venture. Since she has no businesses listed with the state (and is therefore avoiding paying any taxes on her income, and in violation of all sorts of licensing laws) it seemed an easy enough solution. BTW, registering your business name costs $50. It’s possible she waiting for a couple more tainted pork chop meals to sell before she bothers with the half-page form and writing a check.

Nothing. She read my letter and has done nothing.

I reported her to the health department yesterday, the inspector called to tell me how it will go from this point. I live in a small town and am now anxious about an angry, possibly crazy stranger showing up on my doorstep because I had the gall to not want an illegal business appropriating my good name to make a quick buck. I also met with an attorney. I spent $100 to discuss my options to protect what I’ve built for the better part of 18 years while she keeps her ads up and spends nothing. There will be more attorney’s fees as the first attorney has set me up to meet with a colleague who specializes in this sort of thing.

But hey, what’s the big deal? Right.

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