I was surprised to receive a Notice of Violation today from the Cumberland County Board of Health for our small business based on a complaint by a local seafood business. I have a home and an adjacent business on the Delaware Bay shore in rural southern NJ. The facility is shared with other individual business users as a marina site. I primarily use the site as a licensed aquaculture facility. I’ve never considered myself or the other people or businesses here to be operating a “Retail Food Facility”. But we are in a remote location with no food stores or restaurants and so about five years ago after hurricane Sandy I started serving lunch on weekends to whoever was here. Typically we have a few contractors and watermen, a few boaters or fishermen and a few other miscellaneous visitors. It just seems like common sense that when we fire up the barbecue, we should ask if anyone else wants some. That practice was unchallenged for almost five years. But at this time of year we have extra blue claw crabs that I can’t sell so I offered to cook them for lunch as well. A seafood dealer was disturbed and filed the complaint.
I’ve taken enough food safety courses to know that I do not want to be involved in running a restaurant or similar operation. It’s just not something that is in my blood. On the other hand, I’ve been an active host here, cooking for groups almost every weekend in the warm weather season. It never occurred to me that the details of this cooking makes the difference in whether this is a legal or illegal activity.
New Jersey’s Administrative Law Code, Title 8, Chapter 24 defines “Retail food establishment” as “an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption:
1. Such as a restaurant; satellite or catered feeding location; catering operation if the operation provides food directly to a consumer or to a conveyance used to transport people; market; vending location; conveyance used to transport people; institution; or food bank; and
2. That relinquishes possession of food to a consumer directly, or indirectly through a delivery service such as home delivery of grocery orders or restaurant takeout orders, or delivery service that is provided by common carriers.
“Retail food establishment” includes:
1. An element of the operation such as a transportation vehicle or a central preparation facility that supplies a vending location or satellite feeding location unless the vending or feeding location is permitted by the health authority; or
2. An operation that is conducted in a mobile, stationary, temporary, or permanent facility or location; where consumption is on or off the premises; and regardless of whether there is a charge for the food.
“Retail food establishment” does not include:
1. A produce stand that only offers whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables;
2. A food processing plant;
3. A kitchen in a private home if only food that is not potentially hazardous is prepared for sale or service at a function such as a religious or charitable organization’s bake sale if the consumer is informed by a clearly visible placard at the sales or service location that the food is prepared in a kitchen that is not subject to regulation and inspection by the health authority;
4. An area where food that is prepared as specified in 3 above is sold or offered for human consumption;
5. A kitchen in a private home, such as a family childcare home, as defined at N.lA.C. 10:126-1.2; or a bed and breakfast guesthouse or bed and breakfast home stay as defined at N.1.A.C. 5:70-1.5, that prepares and offers food to guests if the home is owner occupied, and breakfast is the only meal offered; or
6. A private home that receives catered or home delivered food.
Clearly a home barbecue does not trigger a retail food establishment, nor does the operation of an aquaculture facility. But the hosting of a barbecue at the aquaculture facility does trigger a violation of the law.
To resolve the complaint, I agreed to prepare food in my home kitchen and clarify to quests that this is a private barbecue, not a public event or a restaurant facility. I expect that the competing seafood dealer will continue to make complaints. I will deal with each new issue that may arise. But for now, a careful reading of the law seems to have resolved the problem.