When you think of the word “crime,” you probably picture an assault, a DUI, or a theft. Certainly, these are traditional offenses featured on shows, movies, and the news. Yet, the lawbreaking world is much broader than alleged violence, inebriation, and stealing. It may come as a surprise to most that the Florida Statutes dedicate an entire chapter to regulating food products, and violations of this chapter could result in an arrest.
If we have piqued your curiosity, read on to learn about some food crimes you never knew existed in Florida.
Possessing, Distributing, or Selling Horse Meat that is not Clearly Marked as Horse Meat for Human Consumption.
The State of Florida is not a fan of “mystery meat.” Similar to one of the laws we will discuss below regarding the misbranding of food, it is illegal to “transport, distribute, sell, purchase, or possess horse meat for human consumption that is not clearly stamped, marked and described as horse meat for human consumption.” It is also illegal to market horse meat that is not obtained from a licensed slaughterhouse. Violation of this law, found in Florida Statute Section 500.451, is a third degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $5000 fine. Even if you avoid the max, be aware that a finding of guilt with regard to horse meat has a minimum fine of $3500. Additionally, a food establishment can lose its business license as a result of a conviction under this section.
Resisting Closure of a Food Establishment from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
The State government has the authority to shut down food businesses who pose a health or safety hazard to the public, who do not comply with certain regulations, or who operate without proper licensing. Upon closing a business (either temporarily or permanently), the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services usually posts a prominent sign at the business that reads, “Closed for Operation.” Any person who removes or defaces a closed-for-operation sign, or any business owner who resists closure of the establishment by the Department, can be charged with a second degree misdemeanor with the potential for jail and fines.
Transporting Food in a Vehicle that has been Used to Transport Waste or Hazardous Substances
While it seems obvious that a carrier should not transport food in a manner that exposes it to bacteria, toxins, chemicals, or other harmful substances, it does sometimes happen. Whether on purpose or inadvertently, transporting food in unsanitary conditions can lead to a criminal charge. The maximum penalty for this offense is a year in jail and a $1000 fine.
Selling a Food Item that has been Seized or Detained by the Department
The seizure of a food item occurs when the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services determines that the food does not meet the State’s safety and health standards as set out in the food chapter of the Florida Statutes or other Florida administrative codes. The Department seizes an article of food by adding a tag or stamp that says the item is subject to seizure. Once seized or “detained,” the food cannot move from its location without the permission of the Department; this includes sale of the item and even throwing it away! A person who removes a seized item by sale or otherwise is technically guilty of a second degree misdemeanor.
Selling Candy Containing more than 0.5 Percent Alcohol
While the idea of Kahlua Chocolates, Rosé Lollipops, and Champagne Gummies sounds tasty to customers, a businessowner who sells candy with alcohol must be sure that the sweets do not exceed the legal limit of alcohol concentration. In Florida, that limit is 0.5 percent. The sale of candy containing over 0.5 percent (by volume) of alcohol is a second degree misdemeanor.
Operating a Water Vending Machine Without a Permit
Who would have thought that selling water could put you behind bars?
While technically this law is not about food, it is in the Florida Statutes Food chapter because it still involves consumption. The operation of a water vending machine without a permit or with a revoked permit is a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by 60 days in the county jail and a $500 fine.
Misbranding Food or False Advertising
While businessowners with food establishments certainly have a degree of leeway when it comes to creative advertising, Florida draws the line at misbranding or false advertising. Misbranding includes changing, altering, forging or removing labels on the food item; false advertising contemplates misrepresentation regarding the preparation, manufacture or sale of articles of food. A person accused of misbranding or false advertising with regard to food is subject to criminal penalties of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Contact Casanova Law about your Misdemeanor or Felony Food Case
Businessowners of food establishments must contend with a long list of rules and regulations. It is foreseeable that, with so many things on an owner’s plate (no pun intended), the administration of a restaurant or food market will be less than perfect.
You may have been accused of a food violation that you did not realize was a violation – let alone a crime. Perhaps this is your first exposure to the criminal justice system. Don’t freak out, and don’t give up: Call our criminal defense law firm for experienced food case defense. Founding attorney Lourdes Casanova is a former prosecutor focused on Fish and Wildlife Cases and criminal accusations from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Our offices are located in Palm Beach County. We also handle Martin County cases. Call us today.