Underground Market Remains Closed; ForageSF to Make Case to City Attorney

The underground market
Health inspectors are holding the line on their decision to shut down the popular ForageSF underground food market, insisting in a meeting yesterday with ForageSF founder Iso Rabins that vendors obtain necessary licenses before the market can reopen.

Rabins tells SF Weekly that the meeting with officials from the San Francisco Department of Public Health "didn't go great. Basically what they're saying is that for them to be able to okay the event, I need to bring all the vendors up to code."

On Saturday, inspectors shut down the market. They had previously permitted it -- even though its vendors don't prepare their products in commercial kitchens, as is required by food regulations -- on the rationale that it was a private, "members-only" event. Patrons were able to sign up for a membership online, or pay a $5 fee to enter the market.

Richard Lee, director of the health department's food safety program, told SF Weekly earlier this week that while early iterations of the market took place in private residences, the event had grown and recently been put on in locations such as the Public Works dance club, which is more accessible to the general public.

Rabins says that he asked DPH inspectors yesterday exactly where they drew the line between a "public" and "private" event, and did not get an answer. He says he plans to meet with officials from the city attorney's office to try to get a sense for what steps the market might need to take to qualify again as a members-only club.

Rabins says his market provides a centralized forum for amateur cooks to sell their food with some level of supervision. "I think that if you shut down the market, what that does is disperse it," he says. "People are still going to do this stuff, but they're going to do it in front of bars and galleries, with no oversight."

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These vendors use the same methods of cleanliness that anyone else does; they simply are not inspected like a commercial facility would be.  I used to work in a (commercial) pizza place and had to force certain employees to go back and wash their hands after using the bathroom and smoking cigarettes.  Who knows what happened on the days when I wasn't managing the place.  Breego, foodborne illness is not a greater risk in this forum than in any restaurant, assuming you have faith in these vendors who care a lot more about their work and public opinion than many restaurant employees.  "Oversight" and the lack thereof does not equal safety standards; in theory, sure, but not in practice.  If you have concerns, don't "join" as a member and don't attend.  For those of us who do, it's a great experience.  To sign a petition in support of forageSF and the Underground Market, which will go to Supervisor David Campos, visit:  http://www.change.org/petition...This event is not unsafe in and of itself, so help us enjoy its benefits by encouraging Supervisor Campos to work with the Health Department and find a way to continue this event legally.  


But does Rabbins provide oversight? I am a fan of the market but I also understand that food-borne illness is a numbers game. When the gig is small, so are the chances. But when it's big, it's only a matter of time before somebody gets sick. Then, someone has to be responsible. Managing the risk is what the concept of public health is about. There are indeed tradeoffs to having health codes but I fall in favor of having basic regulation around public vendors. 

Would it not help these vendors advance their small businesses if Rabbins helped them get up to code? 


Iso is bummed he has to get a real job now. Much rather buy food from an independent underground street vendor outside a bar than at that market.

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