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Wine,Wine & Food

The food safety license was issued at 5:59 p.m.

… Which allowed the doors to open for another Dark & Delicious at 6:00 p.m., only one minute later. Why? Because we had just successfully passed the food safety licensing requirements of Alameda County. It wasn’t ever official, until that very minute.

Yeah, Dark & Delicious 2015 is going down in history as the steepest learning curve in my 40+ years of event planning. Let’s just say, as you get older, don’t expect things to get easier. Each year you live, the rules and regulation have matured right along with you.

Warning… if you’re having a wine and food event in the future, you’d darn well better read this blog; or this, too, could happen to you.

The US has always had laws for safe food handling; probably right after wagon trains crossed the great divide of settling the west, coming from the east coast.  No harm, no foul on today’s regulations. We’ve come a long way, baby… as the saying goes… since wagon train chow was whatever it was with no one standing over anyone’s shoulder.

Now… Lately, there’s been a tremendous crack down on rules and regulations, with tickets being handed out all over the place, I just heard… And, I’ve been completely out of that loop. But, not anymore.

I’m completely prepared for getting my ABC liquor license; which, for the first year, was also a tremendous learning curve.

Nothing, I mean NOTHING, like I’ve just been through, has ever made me jump through hoops of this proportion.

During the event, I’d point to this barrel hoop sculpture (photo above) and say, “See those hoops? I’ve just jumped through all of them, and it only cost me $3,000.”

Start with a license fine penalty, because I began my process late in the game. I’ve never had to get a food license before (or so I thought) and was told within a week of the event that I needed one. What?

For me, it would have taken 30 days to prepare under proper conditions. I have a ton of all the other details I have to do each year for Dark & Delicious, with many of them being the exact week before. Some of them definitely fell through the cracks this year, because the food safety license took over my life, waking and sleeping. (I’m now sighing and raising my eyebrows in wonder.)

I had one winemaker say to me, and it’s true, “We only got our food partner two days before the event. So, I don’t know how you pulled it all off.”

This is because the winery and food partner had been traveling all around together for other events, and this one was their recent fourth. It had to be figured out if it could even happen or not. It happened in the final hour.

I had someone else tell me, who travels the nation, that “This was the most rigorous investigation, based on the food safety requirements, that I’ve ever experienced in ALL of the US.”

We also had six food partners bail, because they didn’t have time for the paperwork. One couldn’t come up with a safety permit for doing business with the product she was going to be serving.

That’s the complicated news. And it really was the “complicated news” for those who were used to Dark & Delicious having an abundance of food. I’m sure we’re going to be the talk of the town for a long time, as having “altered” that usual expectation. The quality and quantity of food items has been our hallmark.

The good news?

  • I passed the final inspection, at 5:59 p.m., so the doors could actually open at 6:00 p.m. as advertised and planned.
  • I now know that I can pass ANY other inspection in food safety, anywhere in the world.
  • The inspector became my new best friend, because she made our event so food safe that no one should have walked away with any food issues.
    • She was very kind and fair in the process, but would never be again if I overlook anything.
    • She – thankfully – chalked it off to my naivety and willingness to jump through those hoops (above).
  • Most people were still satisfied, and able to rise above it all, because really… we’ve always called it a wine and food event, not a food and wine event. When you’ve got handy dandy wine to drown your sorrows, right on the spot, disappointed feelings can be tempered.

Am I rethinking my business model… You bet I am. People are telling me that I’m too close to the sting to make any judgments at this time… So, I’m sitting here, letting everyone know, who might want to go through this system that I just experienced, get yourself to a class offered by the Alameda County Environmental Health Department… Because:

  • You’ll live to regret it, if you didn’t.
  • As an event planner, you can’t be too prepared.
  • After having taken their class, you can determine if it’s going to be worth your while (or not) to bring in any food partners.
  • You’ll be rest assured that you can pass an inspection, not just before your event begins.
  • NO one will be issued tickets for not having all bases covered, because you’ve covered them all.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share the hoops. For today, I’ve issued some considerations.

This all reminds me of my days as a Girl Scout Day Camp director. When I went to the council headquarters, as all day camp directors in the state of Maine gather for each year’s planning, I was taught by the best with this warning:

You’d better make sure you cover all of your bases, because if anything happens and you didn’t cover yourself, you are going to be held liable. This for a volunteer job… I could lose my home for a volunteer job? Yeah, I got with the paperwork program quickly… Anyone planning any event needs to be prepared for handling everyone’s rules and regulations, and it’s nearly a full time job.

On Tuesday: How to legally set up for a wine and food event, focusing on your environmental health permit process.

11 Responses to “The food safety license was issued at 5:59 p.m.”

  1. Monique says:

    I am impressed by how calm and collected you were as the doors opened. Shows the show’s strength of a true professional.

  2. Linda Tenbrink says:

    Jo ! – I have been in your shoes – and the food safety inspections for both Solano County and Napa County are getting more difficult ever year. Even at the farmers market to give out samples of fruit. It has reached the point of not being able to give out samples because of the regulations.

  3. Paul Moe says:

    Government employees justifying their government salaries. Yes, they are necessary, yes, they do provide a service, and yes, they are Vermont maple syrup in February.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    If it means anything, Monique, my astrology chart reads that I’m the one who is calm in any crisis… If a ship was going down, I’d be the one giving directions for the best save. I don’t cave in these kinds of situations, and is probably why I can calmly assess it after. That said, it was a huge burden… massively so.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    So, Linda, we can now share our pain… I’m sorry for what you’re having to go through. I almost feel like everyone should be wearing rubber gloves. One of the two inspectors mentioned something about an item being handled. I popped up with, “Oh, we have plastic gloves.” I’ve been schlepping them around for years, placed in my first aid bucket by my food safety daughter Melanie. That saved a lot of possible grief.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Paul, they do have to “get their jobs done,” as you said, and it does take time to go over everything… I had to turn in a lot. In this instance they had to work as fast as I did, because I came into their office at the last minute. They were exceptional and kind in every way, and bent over backwards for someone as ignorant as I was in the process. So was my connection at Rock Wall. It was Baptism by fire… for us all. Also, the police person expedited, when the person at the front desk knew that I wasn’t local (since the officer was out for the day… She caught him when he came in for lunch), and the Oakland ABC office just passed it through and got it back to me within a day. (That one has to be reviewed and mailed back). In all instances, these professionals have been just that… professionals. Being in a DMV office, well, we all that one to be a BINGO game.

  7. allaboutwine says:

    ya its right to know about the saftey

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    It’s left me … Can’t even find the words this morning… Time for coffee and maybe some clarity. Perhaps if their fee was $150 an hour, with a 10 hour minimum… $1500 just to have an event…

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  10. Hi Jo,
    Thanks for your comments on my post. I’m so sorry to hear of all the frustration and anxiety this created for you! Thanks for your persistence and will power pulling D&D off. Now (obviously) I understand why there were fewer food vendors! I sure hope D&D can continue….

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Martin. I appreciate your thoughts. It was an immense challenge, and I just did the best I could. There will be another, but what incarnation is yet to be determined. All things must evolve, and I can still hosting that party.

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