Art munchies on ice 

Missoula art appreciators on the prowl at last week’s First Friday Art Walk may have been disappointed by the uncharacteristic scarcity of finger food along the way. Meanwhile, many gallery owners are feeling the sanitized breath of City Hall breathing down their necks, the result of a letter they recently received from the Missoula City-County Health Department.

The letter states that gallery owners who wish to give away food to the pubic at art openings must obtain a license to do so. Galleries that reside within existing food establishments, such as Butterfly Herbs or Bernice’s Bakery, already have valid food service licenses, but others must obtain a temporary license, which runs $60–$75 per year, depending on the size of the operation. To knowingly serve food without a license qualifies as a misdemeanor, with a fine of $50–$100 for the first offense.

“If you purvey food to the public, with or without charge, you must have a license,” says Mary Lou Gilman, Environmental Health Specialist at the Missoula City-County Health Department.

“I’ve stopped making things at home,” said one gallery owner. “It’s a bummer because a lot of things at First Friday were very personal, based on what the show was about, or seasonal: chocolates for Valentine’s Day, cookies for Christmas. Plus, it was nice to be able to cut your own cheese and vegetables at home.”

But what about hiring a caterer to cut your cheese, or purchasing deli platters at the supermarket? In both cases, you would be serving food that was prepared in a certified kitchen. Would you still need a license?

ffimative, says Gilman. “The temporary license gives the health department the opportunity to say, ‘have you thought about how you are going to serve this food?’ The deli platter, for example, must stay on ice.”

Non-profits, she adds, are eligible for an exemption from the license fee. But they still have to come in and discuss their proposed food service with the health department.

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