Law on free food takes a licking

Health office attacked for enforcement at fair

October 02, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

BURTONSVILLE -- In Montgomery County, it's not just risky to take candy from a stranger, it can get you in trouble with the law.

A county health inspector raised the eyebrows of residents and the ire of a County Council member when he put a damper on the Burtonsville fair last weekend with his warnings to stop giving lollipops to children.

Giving away candy without a license violates state law, the unnamed inspector said as he went from booth to booth.

"This is the candy police, no doubt about it," fumed council member Nancy Dacek. "What's next, banning Halloween?"

Dacek says that if the people of Burtonsville are scofflaws, then so are the politicians who toss candy from open cars during holiday parades.

"We all go to Costco all the time to buy the big bag of Tootsie Rolls to hand out to the kids. I don't think we're out to poison the children," said Dacek.

Dacek's office called the county health office to complain and received in return a faxed copy of the state health regulation used by the health inspector.

State law requires a license for everyone giving away food to the public, with the exception of nonprofit organizations.

Dacek was not amused.

"I hand out apples at the Germantown Oktoberfest," she said. "My inclination is to hand out my apples, be cited, go to jail, do what I have to do."

A red-faced health department quickly retreated, calling the Burtonsville flap an "unfortunate incident."

"Our inspectors are not out to shut down Halloween or arrest Willy Wonka," said Lynn Frank, chief of Public Health Services.

The inspector, a 15-year department veteran, is on vacation in the Grand Canyon, Frank said. "I wish I was there right now."

She said the situation escalated after the inspector told an unlicensed hot dog vendor he would have to shut down. The vendor became angry and demanded that the other booths be treated the same way.

The inspector, Frank said, had little choice at that point.

"We've apologized," Frank said. "But this is one of those times when you just want to put your head in a bag."

Pub Date: 10/02/99

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