In the most recent Yelp review for the Meanley & Son hardware store, the actual hardware is secondary to the store’s real selling point. “I can't walk by Meanley & Son without stopping in,” Scott G. wrote. “Right inside the smell of fresh popped popcorn greets you, and it is super tasty, help yourself to a bag.” Unfortunately for Scott, that’s no longer possible—not since the San Diego County Health Department caught a whiff of that popcorn, too.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, health inspectors told the store’s owner, Bob Meanley, that if he wanted to keep serving the store’s signature snack, he would need to install a three-basin sink so that the popcorn popper could be cleaned and sterilized, and the store would also have to undergo regular inspections, like it was a restaurant that served one buttered entree and several aisles’ worth of inedible side dishes.
Meanley declined, opting instead to unplug the popcorn machine and put it in storage. It was the first time the store had been popcorn-free in more than 25 years; he estimated that, on average, he served between 30 and 40 bags of popcorn every day. “I hate to take away something that our customers really like,” he said. “On the other hand, this whole thing has made me more aware of our liability.”
So how did the Health Department find out about Meanley’s unlicensed and unregulated old-fashioned popcorn machine? Because of a ruthless snitch. Some anonymous busybody made the Fun Police’s equivalent of a citizen’s arrest, calling the Health Department to report that they’d seen someone grabbing popcorn out of the self-serve machine with their bare hands.
That’s all it took for the department to force Bob Meanley to carry the popcorn popper off the sales floor. In a statement to the Tribune, a Health Department spokesperson made it sound like Meanley was offering his customers a smoothie made from used syringes, unpasteurized milk, and his own saliva. “Potential health hazards include but are not limited to risk of foodborne illness, cross contamination, improper storage of equipment and foods, unsanitary equipment, and vermin,” the Department wrote. “According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cross contamination of food through unclean equipment and improper food handling or hand washing are major contributors to foodborne illness.”
The number of foodborne illnesses reported at the store in 25 years? Zero.
The number of petty jerks? At least one.