NY Firefighters' Chili Cook-Off Canned

The food police strike again

By Jim Fitzgerald
|  Thursday, Nov 18, 2010  |  Updated 5:32 PM EDT
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NY Firefighters' Chili Cook-Off Canned

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The food police struck again in New York City suburbs.

This time, volunteer firefighters had to douse plans for their almost-annual chili cook-off fundraiser when a health inspector discovered that more than 30 home kitchens would be used to prepare the chili.

Just last month in Westchester County, a town councilman called the cops on two 13-year-old boys who were selling cupcakes, cookies, brownies and Rice Krispie treats in a park. They didn't have a permit.

The firefighters were disappointed but understanding about having their chili feast canned.

Daniel Goswick, a chief at the Piermont Volunteer Fire Department, said Thursday that the fundraiser had been held off-and-on for eight years without any problems.

"Nobody got sick or anything," he said. "But the guy from the county is just doing his job. I can't bad-mouth him. It's unfortunate, and we're disappointed."

The firefighters' own advertising got them into trouble. Rockland County Health Commissioner Joan Facelle said her department learned of the cook-off when an inspector saw a notice for it.

"Once we saw a potential risk to the public, we had to pursue how they were going to implement it," she said. "We learned they were going to prepare the chili in various homes and bring it to a central location, and a permit can't be issued for that."

They key problem, she said, was that the chili would be offered to the public. Health Inspector John Stoughton said there's an exemption for covered-dish church suppers and the like, because they're prepared for "a limited distinct group" and any outbreak of sickness could be more easily traced. The regulation is a statewide one, he said.

Facelle said the firefighters were told that permits are required for kitchens preparing food for public sale, so the chili could be prepared in a restaurant, for example.

The Piermont firehouse itself has a permit, "but we don't have room for 30 or 35 cooks," said firefighter Tim Temple, who was the prime organizer. "We have a six-burner stove."

The cooks, including some firefighters, had volunteered their services.

The cook-off had been scheduled for last Saturday in Flywheel Park in Piermont, which is on the Hudson River 20 miles from Manhattan. Customers would have paid to sample various chili concoctions and pick a winner.

The Journal News first reported the story.

Temple said a small flea market had been arranged around the cook-off.

"We put a lot of work into it, and a little money," he said. "We'd advertised it around for a couple of months."

He said the Health Department hadn't notified them until the Monday before the event.

"I wish we had been told about the permits a little sooner," he said. "Hopefully next year we can work with the Health Department."

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