Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The complications of food in Dallas public markets.

It's easy to compare Big D with the Weird City down south, and the general conclusion is that Dallas isn't as cool as Austin.  The Capitol of Texas is lucky to be located in beautiful Hill Country, to house the University of Texas, and to have flexible laws that allow for creative use of space.  Food trucks and farmers markets are all the rage nowadays, and whereas one Texan city has been open to their use, another to the north has made them more difficult than they need to be.

We had a nerve wracking visit from Code Compliance last Saturday at the Market.  We were prepared, having applied for and received a Temporary Food Service Permit (TFSP) for the one vendor we thought would actually need it.  The last time I talked to someone at the Health Department at Goforth Rd. in December, the supervisor told me that 1) a properly licensed food truck would not need a TFSP when used in conjunction with a Special Event Permit, 2) a vendor selling closed food products did not need a TFSP, and 3) a vendor selling produce would need a TFSP.  Apparently, it really matters who talks to you at the City of Dallas because the ginger haired code inspector who came by knew nothing of this supervisor who had promised an easy time having food at the Market.

The ginger inspector informed me that the Food Truck indeed needed its own TFSP.  Also, the vendors who give out samples of their food also require a TFSP.  If they sold jars of their product without letting people sample them, then no TFSP would be necessary.

I understand the need to regulate the food that people are consuming at a public event.  Being the one responsible for the Market, the last thing I want to see is someone getting sick off the food being served.  What is prohibitive about this process is the cost and confusion of doing it right by the City.  The TFSP costs $190 and can cover up to 5 vendors for $5 per vendor.  In other words a permit for 5 vendors costs $215, but a permit for 2 vendors costs $200, so a permit for 7 vendors is $415.

The permit does not differentiate between food producers whose ingredients do or do not include potentially harmful food (PHF).  If it is consumable, it needs a permit, including coffee or tea.  Even pickles and jelly, which are foodstuffs developed over the course of human history as a form of food preservation, are lumped together with perishable meats and cheeses.  As a result, DEOM is restricted to booking food vendors at multiples of 5.

As is in Dallas, it's impossible for food trucks and markets (nationwide trends) to operate within the Central Business District.  If a food vendor wants to sell anywhere else in Dallas, they need a markets permit ($100 for the first and $50 for each additional market) and a TFSP on top of a food managers license, food manufacturing permit, certified kitchen information, and food handlers license.  Luckily, a market director is allowed to file the TFSP to alleviate a little bit of this cost.

What I wish for is a simpler and more cost and time efficient way of getting permitted.  I would like an organized governing body for this, so that Special Events, Health Department, Code Compliance, and Farmers Market can figure out what the other guy is telling people.  I would like to give input on a proper way of licensing these types of events that protects the City and also allows vendors to make money.  Dallas is literally the only City in the US that makes its food vendors pay $200 for the privilege of selling their delicious delectables. 

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