The lemonade stand conundrum stirs House lawmakers

Would allowing New Hampshire health inspectors to continue inspecting farm stands open the door for the state to go after a child’s lemonade stand? And would such a practice justify the state’s pre-emption of local food inspection ordinances?These were some of the questions members of a House Commerce and Consumer Affairs subcommittee grappled with Tuesday in an attempt to clarify a retained food protection bill.The bill in question – House Bill 234 – would have established a dedicated food protection fund, but that was quickly deep-sixed, since lawmakers don’t like dedicated funds and Katie Frey, policy administrator at the state Department of Health and Human Services, quickly agreed to get rid of that portion of the legislation.But Frey still wants HHS to be able to inspect farm stands — a power that was taken away when lawmakers passed HB 339, an unrelated meat inspection bill.The reason, explained Joyce Welch, an administrator of HHS’s Food Protection Bureau, is that farm stands don’t just sell fruits and veggies anymore, but cheese, milk, jams and jellies and other products that could cause various illnesses that could be serious, and sometimes fatal.But Rep. Donna Mauro, R-Windham, was skeptical, to say the least. Have there been any outbreaks of such illnesses, she asked.Not to Welch’s knowledge”Then why are you doing this?” Mauro asked.”We are trying to prevent it from happening,” said Welch. “I think they [consumers] presume things are getting inspected.””No they don’t,” she said. “People who buy food from food stands know that there isn’t a refrigerator plugged in. “Rep. Jenn Coffey, R-Andover, who heads the subcommittee, was worried that the discretion of the food inspectors would be so broad as to cover lemonade stands.”That may sound funny, but it’s not funny when we have children being harassed by the health department,” Coffey said.HHS is not going to go after children “who didn’t use gloves to squeeze lemonade,” scoffed Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, adding, “Maybe you have a lot of staff to check lemonade stands staffed by five year olds.”Frey assured the subcommittee that it didn’t, but most of the representatives’ fears were not allayed. It sounded like a “put the farm stand out of business bill,” said Andrew Manuse. R-Derry.Coffey returned to the lemonade stand example, saying that she heard that they were cracking down on such stands in Concord. “That’s Americana,” she said of the lemonade stands.If it was in Concord, that is the province of the city’s health department, one of the 16 municipalities that does its own food inspections. State law exempts temporary and occasional food stands, and that would include a kid’s lemonade stand.In that case, said Manuse, maybe the state should take over food inspections in these towns.Coffey said she would be open to such legislation, because state pre-emption means more uniform laws for businesses. Meanwhile, the subcommittee said it would hold off tackling the issue of farm stands until they found out why that power was taken away from the state in the first place. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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