News - August 17, 2011

Inspector cites 14 vendors at Menlo Park Block Party

by Sandy Brundage

It started with a dead pig. An eagle-eyed shopper at Draeger's Market in Menlo Park noticed a store employee wheeling around a dead pig in a shopping cart, snapped a photo, and called the county health inspectors.

Turns out, the pig was meant for a school dissection lab, and no violations were found, according to the county.

But, after wrapping up a visit to Draeger's on June 22, a health inspector noticed the Menlo Park Block Party down the street on Santa Cruz Avenue and decided to drop by.

Four hours and 14 citations later, vendors at the block party realized that they did indeed need a special event permit from the county to dispense food at the party. In addition, they also needed hand-washing stations, gloves, covers for food, and other hygienic niceties.

Several vendors told the inspector the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsor of the block party, invited them to participate, but hadn't told them they needed permits, according to the inspection reports.

The vendors weren't fined — this time. Instead, the chamber footed a $918 bill for the inspector's overtime.

Five mobile food trucks operating at the party did have current permits, the inspection report said.

Dean Peterson, the county's director of environmental health, said the fines can go as high as three times the cost of the permit, racking up $294 to $888 per booth, for a potential total of $12,432.

"We also have the authority to shut down their operation — this option is rarely used unless the operation poses a risk to public health, i.e., no hand-washing equipment or food kept at unsafe temperatures, basically the same reason we would shut down any operation," he said in an email to the Almanac.

A similar event hosted by the chamber — the Connoisseur's Marketplace — hasn't had the same problems, Mr. Peterson noted.

The chamber's CEO, Fran Dehn, said the organization has an upcoming meeting with the county to discuss the issues, and had asked the county to bill it instead of the vendors. A copy of a letter sent to Ms. Dehn by the county indicates the chamber completed the application for a special event permit for the party on June 23, the day after the festivities.


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