Thursday, November 30, 2006

How about a few libertarian rants?

Now, I don't want to turn Howard County into a gambling hot spot, but it is absurd that of all the counties in this fine state, ours is the only one where it is illegal for bars to host poker tournaments, which, in case you haven't noticed, are quite popular nowadays. I don't think we'll slide down a slippery slope towards full-bore casinos if we allow bars to host a couple tournaments a year as a way to drum up some extra business and let their patrons have a little fun.

Also, why is this a state law that affects on Howard County? More absurdity.

Although our county may be a little overbearing in this respect, at least we're not as bad as Fairfax, whose government was just given (by me) an award for being the most outrageously stupid and evil bureaucracy in history.

The casserole has been canned.

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.

Under state and county code, food served to the public must be prepared in a kitchen that has been inspected and certified by the county Health Department. Those standards are high: a commercial-grade refrigerator, a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and a separate hand-washing sink, among other requirements.

Health officials said they weren't aware that food from unapproved kitchens was being served in homeless shelters.

"We're dealing with a medically fragile population . . . so they're more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than the general population," said Tom Crow, the county Health Department's director of environmental health. "We're trying to protect those people."

To help the churches prepare, the Health Department is waiving a $60 fee for certification and is holding additional safe food-handling classes for church volunteers. It is also giving churches that do not have approved kitchens a list of other houses of worship with such facilities.
Isn't that nice of them to waive the fee? I'm sure that $60 will really help all the churches upgrade to professional kitchens. Commercial grade refrigerators can't be more than a couple hundred bucks, right?

Oh, well, it's just another reason to not like the Commonwealth to our south, as if you needed more.

(Sorry if you're from VA. As Cindy V says, present company excluded.)

(In case you couldn't tell, I'm a little cranky today. But football is on tonight, so the world will be right soon.)

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Remember Mitch Schnyder -- the Vietnam Vet who made it his mission to feed the homeless in DC some years back? (I think that was his name.) Didn't he -- for a time -- crawl through dumpsters behind restaurants looking for usable, clean produce with which he could feed homeless folks? We've come a long way. "No soup for you! Sure, you haven't eaten in a week. But the church kitchen doesn't have an FDA-approved fridge."

Rest in peace, Mitch.

Anonymous said...

Don't the homeless, especially as the article said, "a medically fragile population", deserve the same level of food safety as the rest of us?

Or are botulism, salmonella, ecoli, poor food preparation practices, poor food storage practices, and poor kitchen sanitation practices a-ok for those less fortunate? I've had food poisoning. It's not fun, even when healthy.

Their health departments' requirements are minimal when you consider a one time investment will provide ongoing protection.

In the meantime, non-profits are still able to provide unprepared foods without any additional investments.

Perhaps, Fairfax County could provide low- or no-interest loans to non-profits of meager means so they can make these improvements immediately and continue their good works uninterrupted.

Hayduke said...

Anon #2: Perhaps we should ask the homeless of Fairfax county what they would like: the illusion of protection or food?

Regulations do not ensure safety, but they do raise the costs of services, which can cripple non-profits operating at razor thin margins as it is.

Besides, has the safety of food for homeless people become a problem recently? If not, then why the heavy-handed new enforcement?

As nice as it would be for Fairfax to subsidize the upgrades of its churches' kitchens, that'll never happen. For all the expressed concern about the homeless, the county has made clear that it wants to make it harder to help those who most need it. Taking it a cynical step further, this decision appears to be an easy way to shift the burden of homelessness to neighborhing counties.

numbersgirl said...

"Health departments' requirements are minimal…"

Not at all. Think about how much it would cost to rehab your home's kitchen. Now, add to that the cost of commercial-grade appliances and stainless steel surfaces. "Minimal" can in no way describe the expense, regardless of the context.

Is it any wonder that when my local fire dept decided to renovate their building (years ago...) and they were faced with the decision to incorporate the new food safety standards or abandon community feasts, they chose the cheaper option? And this was an organization already incurring hundreds of thousands or more in renovation costs.

Just think of what life would be like in Baltimore without Bea Gaddy’s Thanksgiving dinner. When she got her start years ago, she cooked the meal herself and relied on donations from organizations and individuals. Even after her death, the tradition lives on, and Baltimore seems to have survived, somehow.

Chris said...

should the health department also regulate foods sold at a school bake sale? how about a lemonade stand?

Anonymous said...

"the illusion of protection or food?"

I'm going to call strawman on that one.

1. Why paint it as an illusion? Which of the requirements doesn't provide protection?
- Well controlled refrigeration?
- Non-permeable stainless steel surfaces that inhibit bacterial growth and can be more effectively sanitized?
- Multi-basin sinks that avoid cross-contamination during dish washing?
- Training food preparers on good food safety practices?

2. And it's not an either or. If you'll reread some of the coverage, you'll find quotes that some of these non-profits aren't planning to stop feeding the homeless because of the regulations being more universally applied - they're planning to prepare the food elsewhere using facilities that meet regulations.

Fairfax, despite your assertions that they're 'trying to shift the homeless burden elsewhere', is a pretty progressive county when it comes to homeless issues. They have plans to eliminate homelessness in their county by 2016. No small feat considering they have the 2nd largest homeless population in the DC region, only DC having more. So, I certainly think it's well within their mindset to consider facilitating financing upgrades of these non-profits' kitchens if the non-profits truly can't afford to do so and don't have access to borrowed up-to-standard facilities. (Invite Evan and Ken to jump in here and debate church-state separation.)

Numbersgirl, I hear what you're saying about some volunteer fire companies jumping through the same hoops for their fund-raising banquet facilities, but I've known several fire companies to be very resourceful to get things done economically and correctly. One, in fact, took a new stock heavy vehicle and arranged locally donated materials and design and fabrication efforts to turn it into a fully-equipped up-to-standard piece of field equipment.

Similar out-of-the-box thinking by these non-profits could yield:
- locally donated and fabricated stainless steel tops (a little cutting, a little bending, and a little deburring) for their existing tables,
- locally donated or acquired second-hand surplus restaurant refrigerators, etc.
- locally donated services to wire or install the upgrades
- coordination among the non-profits to pursue these improvements collaboratively, gaining volume discounts for those improvements they're unable to acquire via donations.

And when Fairfax is saying the homeless are "at-risk" population, it's due to the homeless having:
- a greater incidence of weakened immune systems
- a greater incidence of mental illness
- much less access to health care, due to less health care coveragte and less money to pay for adhoc medical care
- less access to transportation to get to medical care
- less of a support network of friends and family when illness strikes.

"should the health department also regulate foods sold at a school bake sale? how about a lemonade stand?"

Neither school bake sales, nor lemonade stands are providing daily sustenance to the at-risk homeless. Instead, both are providing optional food and beverages to healthy populations.

That said, I have participated in one day fundraisers for non-profits, serving beverages to the public at public events where, yes indeed, the health department required an inspection, proper equipment and sanitation, and a license. And I've seen other non-profit volunteers work do all kinds of wacky lacking common sense things when working in kitchens.

Howard County, by the way, allows operating snowball stands on residential property, but does require health department inspections.

Now for a few sobering figures.
- 57 million people get food poisoning each year, research showing most of these cases occurring at home, not a restaurant. (Not suprising since most meals are served at home. One of mine did happen at home, the other from a restaurant.)
- Most cases of food poisoning aren't reported to public health officials. (I didn't report mine, but I never plan to eat at that restaurant again.)
- Nationwide, the cost of caring for one homeless person is $47,600 per year, mostly due to expensive emergency room visits and hospital stays.

So, yes, food safety for the homeless is an issue lately and has been for some time. And Fairfax County didn't just out of the blue commence this enforcement - it originated as a result of a public complaint.

It's got to be more than a cheap "feel good" thing for these non-profits to do. It's got to be an "expensive as it needs to be to not endanger those they're trying to help" and "feel good" thing to do. Otherwise, the non-profits should stop and let the County do it safely at everyone's expense.

Many of our neighbors are just one paycheck away from being homeless, too. Should they also be one paycheck away from a meal more dangerous than it needs to be?

FreeMarket said...

Anon 1:45AM- Your “out of the box” thinking is nothing more than relying on handouts from private citizens. Christmas is right around the corner, maybe Santa Claus could bring these shelters new kitchens and new homes for the homeless.

Btw, how do you know that most cases of food poisoning are not reported? Is that just wild ass speculation? The 57 million figure you cited is overblown as well. According to this link there are between 6.5 million and 33 million cases of food poisoning annually. The link also states that most cases of food poisoning can be prevented by using hygienic food handling practices and ensuring food is cooked thoroughly. No commercial kitchen required. I think it is more likely that a homeless person would get food poising from eating out of a dumpster than a non-commercial kitchen.

Anonymous said...

freemarket,

I never said the out-of-the-box thinking was anything more than relying on handouts from private citizens. These non-profits are already doing just that, providing free labor, facilities, and meals in this effort. Currently, they're faced with necessity requiring them to be more inventive. I'm sure they can rise to the task and I expect the County (or its politicians) will coordinate with them.

The refrigerators, sinks, etc. don't have to be shiny, new, or unding'd. The non-profits could pursue dovebid, ebay, craigslist, the GSA, major restaurant chains, or any number of other resources.

Local metal fab shops could helping out could use scrap material and donate the minimal design/fab/install time for the SS tops and get ample good press to boot.

Good people can be pretty inventive and charitable when the need arises.

How do I know most food poisoning cases go unreported? Quoting the CDC, "Because many ill persons to not seek attention, and of those that do, many are not tested, many cases of foodborne illness go undiagnosed. For example, CDC estimates that 38 cases of salmonellosis actually occur for every case that is actually diagnosed and reported to public health authorities."

Your U.K. commercial link citing between 6.5 million and 33 million food cases nationally refers to a "U.S. Food and Safety Initiative". I presume they're referring to U.S. National Food Safety Initiative. That program's website, foodsafety.gov, does bear a link to yet another U.K. source, a British medical journal article, that lists those same 6.5M and 33M numbers, but the footnoted source for those numbers listed is http://www.foodsafety.gov - in other words, a non-authoritative run-around. If you have underlying references for those numbers, please share.

Hardly wild ass. The 57 million U.S. food poisonings I cited was from an article that quoted Univ. of Tenn. Food Scientists.

Since it appears we both need to pursue better references to firm up what's accurate, going for even more direct-from-the-horse's-mouth statistics, the CDC estimates 76 million illnesses due to foodborne diseases, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.

"The link also states that most cases of food poisoning can be prevented by using hygienic food handling practices and ensuring food is cooked thoroughly."

I agree. And that is what the inspections and upgrades are for - avoid cross contamination during dish washing, maintain germ free prepartion surfaces, verify foods are being heated to and maintained at temperatures that will kill bacteria even if foodstuffs are infected due to poor handling or refrigeration. Some ovens can have or develop grossly inaccurate thermostats (off by 100 degrees), giving the impression food's being cooked adequately when it's not. Annual inspections check.

So, because eating from a dumpster has a higher incidence of food poisoning, are you saying it's ok to set the bar low for these kitchens serving the public? Seems pretty cavalier when it's others' health and lives being put at risk.

Despite what seems to be a prevalent mindset here of rationalizing perpetuating substandard conditions for others less well off, Seasons Greetings.

numbersgirl said...

Anon 1:45 p.m. re: Most cases of food poisoning aren't reported to public health officials. (I didn't report mine, but I never plan to eat at that restaurant again.)

Were you diagnosed at the doctor's office with food poisoning? If you were truly sickened with a diagnosed case of food poisoning, your doctor, not you, would report it to the local health dept. Getting sick after eating at the local burger joint does not always equal food poisoning. You cannot confuse your anectdotal cases of "food poisoning" with the actual thing.

With regards to your notion of non-profits using craigslist as a resource, I still think you are living in fantasyland to think this is feasible on a large-scale basis.

I agree with and echo the comments of Chris- are we going to regulate bake sales next?

Anonymous said...

No, neither time did I follow up a half night's continuous repeated vomiting with a doctor's visit the following day.

And the restaurant meal wasn't a burger joint, it was surprisingly one of the County's better restaurants. Coincidentally, that particular entrée is no longer on their menu.

In hindsight, going to the emergency room (my doctor's office is closed at night, isn't yours?) when the room was spinning and I was puking my guts out every ten minutes would have been the safest thing to do, but I would have required assistance and it would have been really messy, too.

Having then gotten half nights' sleep and being spent from the ordeals, I was well enough to achingly go about my normal day and didn't want to waste the time or expense of waiting to see a doctor to tell me what I already knew.

So, no I didn't have an official diagnosis. but my stomach has only done that on those two occasions. It was very bad. I've had bad meals before. Those two were far, far beyond.

With regards to your notion of non-profits using craigslist as a resource, I still think you are living in fantasyland to think this is feasible on a large-scale basis.

craigslist was only one of the several ways I listed to economize acquiring equipment. That said, craigslist can be a great resource.

As for bake sales, many municipalities do, for good reason, regulate them in one way another. Some just provide safety guidelines. Some restrict which foods can be sold, prohibiting food types which have greater risks. Some require registration with the health department.

numbersgirl said...

Sorry, but while your story evokes a sympathetic response, you can't prove food poisoning here. It may have been inconvenient to seek medical treatment, but if there was an actual danger of food contamination, reporting it would have saved other lives. Are you saying that you were so selfish as to only think of yourself and not consider the other people who may be in danger of getting sick from eating there as well? Only a diagnosis and report to the health department can protect others. If the establishment were truly at fault for your illness, you had an obligation to seek treatment, confirm your suspicions, and have it reported.

Question- how many people get sick from eating Aunt Sally's expired turkey loaf vs an undercooked chicken breast at a restaurant? I don't have a stainless steel kitchen, a commercial grade fridge, and so far, I've made it just fine.

Unless the government has a plan to make up for the damage they have caused (and no, $60 subsidies to the orgs doesn't cut it), they should keep out of it. Let the homeless eat.

Anonymous said...

You are 100% right. Once well enough, I should have gone to the doctor, no matter how much delaying the visit until the next day would have reduced the likelihood of a correct diagnosis. It would have prolonged the inconvenience of each episode, but it would have been the right thing to do.

On another occasion I did report live maggot-contaminated trail mix (more protein, but yuck), returning to the store, informing the manager, and making them remove it from sale. And, before you chalk that up to my imagination, too, the store did indeed confirm both the trail mix I returned and the trail mix out for sale had live maggots.

As I mentioned previously, more people get sick from home-prepared meals than from restaurant meals, my guessing because more meals are served at home.

I'm in agreement that the homeless should eat. But aren't they entitled to eat as safely as the rest of us? The CDC's numbers detailing the risks don't lie and it's the job of health departments to protect us from those risks.

The health departments require restaurants to be properly equipped, maintained, and run. These non-profits are essentially running restaurants, just graciously not charging their guests. For their graciousness, I can imagine all kinds of considerations being extended to them, but cutting corners on safety should not be one of them.

Last time I checked new construction for places of worship wasn't exempted from meeting fire code. So why should their kitchen operations be exempted from meeting health code?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful.

Now can we have a liberal rant, a conservative rant (a coherent one, not one from the other blog), and an independent rant (again, a real one, not from the other blog)?

Your libertarian rant was focused on one issue. The problem I have with the libertarian philosophy is what to do about vulnerable populations. My sister insists that my confused mother can make all her own decisions. Frighteningly, not so, as evidenced by allowing physicians to drug her beyond recognition, and on looking at her finances.

FreeMarket said...

“I don't have a stainless steel kitchen, a commercial grade fridge, and so far, I've made it just fine.”

Boy, I wish I could get my wife to say that! I’d be off the hook for a new kitchen.

Hayduke said...

Anon - 12:46 pm: In the original draft of this post I said something about my libertarian leanings getting sharply cut-off when it comes to issues of housing and health care, two places where the market is completely broken for the more vulnerable groups.

I'll work on the other rants, too, though I tend to not be the ranting type.

wifeoffreemarket said...

freemarket-

fat chance

Anonymous said...

Hayduke,

You were only addressing one issue, as noted. The philosophy in total was where I went, hoping a libertarian would step in and clarify the plan for vulnerable populations.

FreeMarket said...

Anon- do you expect the government to take care of “vulnerable populations”? The unrestricted market does not provide welfare. Rather, it puts everyone at the same economic starting line and their own abilities determine where they cross the finish line. Socialist societies better take care of vulnerable populations by making sure everyone is at the same finish line. This of course makes the “regular” population significantly worse off. At some point the vulnerable have to live off of the successful, be it from taxes or charity. I would rather see private charities than government in this capacity. Governments have no incentive to be efficient.

Anonymous said...

Ah. The clarification.

Successful? That is far too general a term to address. Pls, more specifics. Some would believe a penniless but wonderfully spritually adept leader is wildly successful.

Is the libertarian definition of 'successful' only monetary? And further, does an unrestricted market protect rights? Is there a "market" of voters to whom the politicians direct sales campaigns? Is it efficient that votes are purchased?

Is capitalism a replacement for democracy, according to libertarian constucts? These questions are not rhetorical, but an opportunity to defend what anyone else, any reader might be thinking/asking about your views.

FreeMarket said...

What are you talking about?

I was not aware that words had definitions based on the political leanings of the user of those words. Next time I hear someone use the word “successful”, I’ll be sure to find out if they are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or whatever.

Anon, I don’t think you know the difference between the economic system of Capitalism and the political system of Democracy. Your questions make that apparent. Do think private ownership of economic resources should be turned over to the government? Do you want to let the government take away your ability to achieve your potential under a free market system? Do you think that Socialism will lead to an increase or decrease in personal rights? Perhaps the wildly successful, penniless and spiritually adept leader will take care of the “vulnerable populations”?

Anonymous said...

Except for the Mitch Snyder comment, I posted the anon comments prior to the Anon 12:46 comment. The others, more addressing political philosophies, starting with Anon 12:46 and preceding this one were from someone else.

I was confused by the 12:46 comment, trying to figure out which of the previous points of view they labeled liberal, which they labeled conservative, and which they labeled libertarian.

Now that the discussion has taken a turn towards markets (economics), systems of government (politics), definitions of success (philosophy), and best ways to provide for the vulnerable (charity), it's quite an open playing field.

Good fodder to ponder, reminding us how fortunate we are, living in the society we do, not that it's perfect, but that it's pretty good.

Unregulated markets (and uninspected public kitchens) do not come without costs to society (reference 1929, '80's S&L crisis, pre-FDA food packaging, Enron). Like safety nets, checks and balances are good.

Anonymous said...

Freemarket:

Given the oppty to support your ideals, you handle the situation with an attempt to discredit the questioner. Do you have supporting philosphies or not? Simple enough, really.

Regarding capitalism and economics, I was just thinking about these very things after the post last night. Ignoring the irrelevant comments you've made and again attempting to elicit a substantive response, it looks as though libertarians wouldn't mind if capitalism took control of democracy, specifically through campaign contributions.

Which circles back to the original question. What do libertarians value, what is the measure of value? It seems as though you've though these things through but are unwilling to share.

Anon 2:09am: None of the comments were labelled any of those things. I'll restate: the comment was made in order to elicit a libertarian clarification on the philosophy, final attempt above, as in, "speaking of libertarian.."

FreeMarket said...

I was not attempting to discredit anyone, and I honestly don’t know how you inferred that. If your questions made sense I would have attempted to answer them. I thought the “original” question you asked was a good one, about the plan for vulnerable populations, which I attempted to answer early on. I don’t recall seeing the “original” question about values anywhere other than your last comment, but Libertarians value the same thing everyone else values, both physical things and emotional: happiness, resources, etc. Many of these things are measured monetarily, which is how to efficiently allocate scarce resources.

You still have not answered any of my questions. I am curious as to what you think.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, I don’t think you know the difference between the economic system of Capitalism and the political system of Democracy. Your questions make that apparent. Do think private ownership of economic resources should be turned over to the government?"

This is filled with attitude, and I thought the question was rhetorical to make a point. The term political economies describes the close relationship between govt and economy. You could argue that they shouldn't have a close relationship, but they'd have some sort of strong link in any case, even if it is to stay out of each other's business.

If the original question is should private economy turned over to gov't, my answer is; you're kidding, right? There is a wide, gaping, universe of philosphy and political economic constructs between wanting govt to support vulnerable populations and govt control of private industry. No, I don't want govt control of pvt industry, but I also don't want pvt industry control of govt.

FreeMarket said...

Sorry if I displayed attitude. I am sure you didn’t intend to come across this way, but your comment at 6:35 struck me as a bit smug and “holier than thou”. That instantly rubbed me the wrong way.

How about this- the vulnerable (or agents thereof) can apply for government vouchers that they then use for services provided for by private industry. Similar to school vouchers, which would improve education significantly.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:52am - Thanks for clearing up my late night dyslexic reading of your 12:46 post. I read it as "Now we can have..." instead of "Now can we have...". Confusion resolved.

Do school vouchers really "improve education significantly"? Mixed results seem to exist.

Instead of handing out vouchers that then require inefficient individual purchase of services, allow the less fortunate to combine their subsidized buying power to collaboratively negotiate and purchase their services from private providers? Economies of scale shouldn't be reserved for just huge entities.

Anon 2:09am

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