USDA cites violations in Cobb

By Lokchi Lam

A surprise visit to Cobb Coffee Shop by an inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on November 4 found that meat and poultry dishes from several Hyde Park vendors did not comply with federal regulations.

According to Amy Conners, the general manager of Cobb, the food was problematic because the vendors required a processor’s license from the USDA in addition to a restaurant license to sell prepared meat and chicken off-site.

“Unfortunately some of our vendors weren’t even aware of this regulation,” Conners said. “Our situation was a very specific case. Generally restaurants don’t sell their food outside.”

But, she added, a loophole exists that allows meat and poultry “between two traditional pieces of bread” to be sold legally.

The offending food was destroyed immediately, according to Jen Kennedy, the University’s Coffee Shop Coordinator.

“Instead of tossing the whole container, we opened up and dumped,” she said.

“The agent came at about 11:30 [a.m.]. By 12:30 [p.m.] we were in complete compliance,” Conners said.

“He [the inspector] legally couldn’t make us destroy the food, but we signed a voluntary statement and destroyed it immediately to make the point,” Kennedy added. She estimated that between $300 and $400 of food was destroyed.

“There’s no communication mechanism [about the regulations] on the federal level,” Conners said. “The inspector is the communication mechanism. You learn when people come in and tell you things have to change.”

Food from Rajun Cajun, Thai Chai, and Maravillas, as well as meat pizza from the Medici was affected, according to Kennedy and Conners.

Instead of obtaining processor’s licenses, however, the vendors are selling similar dishes that replace meat and poultry with seafood, which does not fall under the same regulations, along with tofu.

“The processor’s license is only $50,” Kennedy said. “But you have to make all sorts of modifications to your kitchen, so really it’s much more expensive. A lot of our vendors don’t own their buildings, so it’s hard. It’s important to us to stay with these mom-and-pop businesses.”

Only Cobb was inspected, but Uncle Joe’s and Ex Libris, which are also under Kennedy’s purview, have made the same modifications to their meat dishes so as to comply with the USDA regulations, according to Kennedy.

“It’s a very minor change—it affected maybe five of the 30-some platters that we carry, so we’re not at all concerned,” said Kirk Schmink, the general manager of Ex Libris. He added that the only item customers missed was the chicken samosa.

“We’re not taking a real negative attitude toward it,” said Ricky Greacen, a third-year in the College who works at Cobb. “We’re kind of working around it. So there’s going to be a lot of sandwiches at Cobb now.”