NEWS

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January 28, 2003

Regulations restrict meat supply to coffee shops

Meat is going extinct in some campus coffee shops as a result of stronger enforcement of USDA regulations. Many Hyde Park vendors who deliver to student-run shops have recently discontinued delivery of chicken, beef, and pork dishes or have started packaging USDA-approved meat separately.

"Our vendors have told us that health inspectors have come to their establishments and prohibited them from bringing us dishes with certain meats," said Andrea Parker, the manager of Cobb Coffee Shop. "The vendors have responded by bringing dishes without these meats or by substituting meats with tofu and meats like shrimp that are acceptable in their regular meat dishes."

USDA regulations require that meat sold by a wholesaler to a third party vendor be inspected and approved by a federal or state agency. "It's a requirement for all retail places and restaurants that they can only use products that are state or federally inspected," said Doctor Chris Mazurczak, bureau chief for meat and poultry inspection at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. "How the meat is handled in the restaurants is up to the Chicago Department of Public Health."

According to Tim Hadac, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Public Health, the agency that inspects licensed food establishments in Chicago, meat must be separated from the other ingredients in order to avoid contamination.

"It has to be separately sealed. It has to be labeled. It has to be dated. It has to be very specific," he said.

According to Brett Shultz, the president and owner of Food Evolution, a wholesale vendor that delivers to campus coffee shops, "You are allowed to put chicken or meat between two pieces of bread; you don't need a USDA approved product. But if you're going to put chicken with salad or pasta, you need a USDA approved product. When we found this out, we were just putting chicken on a chicken Cesar salad."

Shultz said that the regulation applies to any form of meat or poultry but excludes fish and seafood. "We can do tuna fish with anything: tuna fish in a wrap, salad, sushi, anything. But let's say chicken fried rice. You cannot do chicken fried rice unless you have USDA approved chicken."

Since becoming aware of these federal requirements, Shultz has had USDA representatives in his kitchen several times.

"We finally got to a point where our whole menu is fine and we learned the rules. Chicken fried rice--that's something I would have produced without knowing. Now I would make the rice and separate it with that chicken packet," he said.

Other Hyde Park vendors have stopped delivering meats entirely. "Vegetables, OK, but chicken, pork, and beef, we cannot send it," said Jimmy Nozaki, the owner of Kikuya Japanese Restaurant. "Only our restaurant and Snail and [Café Corea] stopped already."

Nozaki, who stopped sending meats to the coffee shops late last month, does not know when he will be able to deliver meat dishes again.

"Kikuya and Café Corea still deliver fish and eggs. Food Evolution has prepackaged, shrink-wrapped chicken mostly, and Briazz had reported to us that they were unaffected by the chicken issue," said Susan Catapano, the manager of Ex Libris. "Often the Snail will have two parts in their dishes--one larger section with rice and the other with chicken.

But actually, when I went and looked at past deliveries, we haven't been getting chicken from them either recently."

The Nile and Pizza Capri remain unaffected by the recent enforcement of USDA regulations. "We deliver beef, chicken, and fish," said Max Taleb, the manager of Pizza Capri of Hyde Park. "I haven't heard anything. I've had no problems yet. Knock on wood."

"I still send it. I haven't received any notification from these people," said Abed Moughrabi, the owner and manager of The Nile Restaurant. "If they come to me, I will talk to them and see if I can explain our procedure to them."

Moughrabi said that he does not put expiration dates on his food because it is delivered, consumed, and picked-up daily.

"We're not like food processing companies and don't have an expiration date on it. We don't do that because our food is consumed daily and what's not consumed that day, we pick it up," Moughrabi said. "We're responsible for things they don't sell. We pick it up and discard it. I don't know if the other restaurants explained that to [the inspectors]."

The recent enforcement of these regulations has had varying effects on Hyde Park vendors, campus coffee shops and customers. "Many vegetarians, like myself, have been somewhat happy about the change in that it opens up the food possibilities on campus," Parker said. "The replacement of the meat with tofu or shrimp has turned some people off of their favorite dishes."

Parker said that some of Cobb Coffee Shop's vendors have complained about the cost of complying with the regulations. "I think that the biggest negative impact is on the vendors themselves, who have been forced to alter a successful formula for business on campus and have certainly lost money trying to adjust to new demands and still please customers," she said. "The ones that were hit first stopped selling as much, as customers gravitated towards the other vendors who still sold meat. Each restaurant seemed to flounder for a bit in figuring out what to prepare."

Uncle Joe's, Ex Libris, and Cobb Coffee Shop have not been contacted or informed by the government about these laws. "I don't know anything that's fact," said Julie Schriefer, the manager of Uncle Joe's.