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North Adams Board of Health OKs Food Vendor, Resolves Cafe Issues

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Samosaman has been cleared to sell its samosas at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's big events. 
 
The Barre, Vt., vendor of fried dough/dumpling with fillings had been a staple of the Solid Sound Festival in particular — but ran into trouble this year. 
 
Owner Fuad Ndibalema attended a Board of Health meeting earlier this month to clear up what he believes was a miscommunication between his operators and the inspection office two years ago that barred the company from serving in North Adams.
 
"I've been doing these since 2010, since Solid Sound started," Ndibalema told the board on June 12. "I apply for this year ... I heard my application is under review and they're not going to issue me a license."
 
Building Inspector William Meranti said it was a "unique situation" because the inspector that began the process two years ago was no longer working for the city. But he did not think the city should just drop the matter just because the inspector was gone.
 
From his knowledge of the situation, the city had been presented with a document with obscured expiration dates and that multiple inspections had been set up but no one was there to meet the inspector.
 
"Even though those inspections hadn't been done, they continued to serve," Meranti said. "The health director barred him from North Adams."
 
This time around, Samosaman had applied late in the application phase that prevented a hearing before the board. Meranti said he had suggested Ndibalema come in at this point to speak to health officials. 
 
Ndibalema said he believed everything had been in order when he applied two years ago and that he had not been told about any issues. 
 
Chairman John Meaney said the board would allow him to serve at the next event if everything is in order.
 
"When they do set up an inspection, make sure you're there or notify that you're not," he said. 
 
Ndibalema promised to make sure he was in communication with the city.
 
"It has been a great event for the year for my business," he said. "We have a great rapport with the people here, with the fans."
 
The board also hashed out some issues between Empire Cafe owner Peter Wheeler and Director of Health Valerie Nickerson-Bird.
 
Wheeler, a former state inspector, objected to the some of the conditions that Nickerson-Bird was requiring for his Main Street eatery, including purchasing cold cuts from the supermarket and enjoining him to have uniforms for his staff at the sandwich shop.
 
"I worked with the state sanitation program for 10 years," he said. "As long as the product is received at 41 degrees or lower, there's not a limit on where you can purchase it ... it's from a certified store."
 
The health inspector, Wheeler said, had wanted him to order through a wholesaler but his volume isn't high enough for the amount he'd have to buy. Instead, he's been purchasing the same cold cuts through an authorized purveyor (the supermarket) that can also slice for him.
 
He said he'd written to the state for clarification and was assured that he could by his products from any legal operation and was not required to have uniforms or aprons as long as his staff were clean. 
 
"I personally want my employees in uniforms to promote Empire Cafe," Wheeler said. "But I'm not in a posistion to do that ... I shouldn't be forced to if it's not required."
 
Nickerson-Bird and Meranti agreed that buying the cold cuts was fine as long as they were transported in a cooler and not allowed to reach a temperature above 41 degrees. But the health inspector said her focus on clothing was to ensure cleanliness when serving the public. 
 
"We require aprons because we can't guarantee that your employees have taken a shower or are wearing clean clothes," Nickerson-Bird said. "You don't necessarily have to have a uniform. ... But the small mom-and-pops, we require aprons."
 
She said that was consistently decreed throughout the city. However, she admitted that there was no written policy outlining that requirement.
 
Having been a inspector himself, Wheeler said he understood the difficulties of the job and respected what Nickerson-Bird was doing, but did not think he should have to do things that are not in law.
 
Uniforms are not necessarily cleaner than street clothes and nor are aprons, he said. "I think there needs to be a lot of commonsense applied." 
 
Meaney said he would feel more comfortable if the employee was wearing an apron because it could be changed out if it became dirty. 
 
Board member Kevin Lamb thought if the city was going to enforce an interpretation of the code it should be written down as policy.  
 
"We've been trying to button up some of this stuff," Meaney said. "We just want to make sure everyone's safe and healthy, that's what we're working on." 
 
In other business, the inspectors reported that a homeowner on Massachusetts Avenue has been given a timeline to clean out a cluttered interior that is a fire hazard in its current condition. Another resident on Bracewell Avenue has reduced the number of dogs in the home from five to two. Neighbors had been complaining about the dog odor. 
 
The inspectors also looked into a Facebook complaint about ants in a sandwich from a local pizzeria. The eatery was clean, had no violations, and no sign of any ants. 

Tags: board of health,   food vendor,   health inspection,   

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