Yesterday, I had to contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture to find answers to questions like:
- How does one go about getting a homemade food product inspected so it meets the safety requirements for public sale and consumption?
- Is it OK to use a catering kitchen to make our product, or do we need to rent a commercial kitchen?
- What are the safety regulations involved in canning tomato sauce?
Generally, I wanted to learn what it takes to get Socci Sauce from a local church bazaar and festival market to the gourmet food store and restaurant market.
After several phone calls to the Department of Agriculture and recounting my spiel (“Hi, my name is Karla. We make pasta sauce and we want to find out what we need to do to meet all the food safety and labeling requirements to sell our sauce to stores and restaurants…”) to several different people who passed me off to more people, I finally got to a very nice woman whom I’ll call “Roberta” just in case someone from the Department of Agriculture or Health Department reads this and is shocked. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble.
Let me say, this may quite possibly be one of the best examples of irony. Ever.
Here is what happened:
I’m sitting at my desk with my father next to me and Albie behind me at his desk. I make the phone call to the Department of Agriculture, get transferred around five times, then speak to Roberta.
I repeat my inquiry and Roberta replies in a rapid-paced, Southern drawl – which is an oxymoron. Clearly she has been asked these questions about food regulations before and is an expert at answering them. I attempt to take notes as quickly as she is speaking, while simultaneously interpreting her accent. My dad watches as I scrawl on the paper between us.
- UGA must review
- Is it “shelf stable”?
- Ph test – 24 hours
- Might have to take class
- Licensed kitchen?
- Business plan
- Health dept.
- Letter from kitchen; letter from Health dept.
Suddenly, I hear a commotion in the background and Ms. Roberta abruptly stops her recitation of food handling requirements and says, “Hold on a minute, please.”
“I’m on hold,” I inform Dad and Albie. I wait with the phone still pressed to my left ear, pen poised in my right hand. The commotion on the other end of the line continues. Apparently, putting me on hold means setting the phone down on the desk.
“Well, get it out of here! I don’t want that in here with me!” I hear Roberta saying to her coworkers.
“Kill it!” I hear. Then, slamming noises like someone is hitting the wall with a shoe. Laughter. Panic. Movement.
I hear muffled sounds and then Roberta’s voice again. “Oh, for cryin’ out loud, just let me get it.” More commotion.
“Did you kill it?” Roberta asks a minute later. Laughter. Voices I can’t understand.
“Oh my God,” I say to Dad and Albie. “They are trying to kill a bug!”
“Are you serious?!” Dad says, incredulously. “The Department of Agriculture has a bug?”
“Apparently,” I say. “It sounds like they are all chasing it around the room with a shoe.”
The three of us are laughing. I am wiping tears from my eyes. We all wait while the commotion continues for several more minutes. I am wondering if Roberta forgot about me.
Then, I hear movement closer to the phone, papers rustling, and a voice on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry about that. Where were we?” says Ms. Roberta in her most professional tone.
“Did you kill it?” I reply.
Unable to contain herself, Ms. Roberta bursts out in a high-pitched cackle and calls out to her colleagues, “She asked if we killed it! I thought she was on hold! She asked if we killed the bug!”
Then, to me she says, “It was one of those water bugs, you know? When it’s cold outside they just come inside. I mean they spray for ‘em, but they find a way in. I had to put it out of its misery!” She laughs again. She is clearly amused by the situation and proud of herself for being brave enough to kill it.
My stomach muscles hurt from laughing. We continue our conversation about food handling protocol and Roberta says she will send me an email with all the details I need to get Socci Sauce “up to code” with the Health Department. She tells me to call her if I have any questions at all and she will be happy to assist us.
Unlike the Department of Agriculture, we do not have any bugs in our kitchen, so I think we are off to a good start.