Tanessa Holt, a food vendor and new mom, received an apology from the Nova Scotia Agriculture Department after a health inspector told her she couldn’t sell food at her farmer’s market booth while she was breastfeeding.
Holt sold prepared organic goods and soup mixes at the Dartmouth Farmer’s Market. She’d been breastfeeding her seven-month-old son at the market without incident until a health inspector told her that, because of the risk of cross-contamination, she would not be able to handle the food at her booth any longer. In an email, she was told she could breastfeed at the booth but would have to hire someone else to handle the food because of the risks of contamination from “vomit and feces.” The email read: “I have no problem with you breastfeeding at the booth, as long as there is another person (ex, an employee) that is at the booth with you, who can serve food to the customers. I would not allow you to breastfeed and then serve customers throughout the day. “
Holt said she was shocked that, in a follow-conversation with the health inspector, it was implied that she could not breastfeed even once during the day and still handle food. Holt says she is food-safety certified, she always nurses with a cover and only changes her son’s diapers in the bathroom. Her booth has a hand-washing station, and she wears gloves when handling perishable food items.
It would appear that this inspector considers breastfeeding more harmful to the general public’s health than going to the bathroom, because food handlers are allowed to go to the toilet and still sell food afterward. However, new mothers aren’t allowed to feed their babies, or change their diapers and then touch food.
My guess is that the inspector didn’t think through what she was implying because, according to her rule, any woman who breastfeeds or changes a diaper once a day cannot handle food. That would highly limit the amount of women in the workforce.
After some national media attention, Bruce MacGregor, the director of food protection at the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture stepped in and said, “The idea that Holt can’t breastfeed and also operate a food establishment is ridiculous.” He said breastfeeding is no different than any other activity. “From a food-handling perspective, it’s no different whether you’re breastfeeding or you go to the washroom or you take out the garbage. The advice is to wash your hands before going back to handling food.”
But it may be too late for Holt. She has decided to close up shop at the market and focus on opening a café and store in the spring—where nursing mothers will be welcome, of course.