You might keep this story handy the next time you hear someone complain about how “industry” is to blame for our food being over-processed, filled with preservatives, and loaded up with various other additives.
A few years ago, Kris Swanberg, having been laid-off from her job as a Chicago Public School teacher, remembered she received an ice cream maker as a wedding gift. TheChicago mom fished it out of her kitchen cabinet and eventually started a new career.
Today Swanberg’s Nice Cream — on offer at local Whole Foods and farmers markets — is considered a star of Chicago’s rich and beloved artisanal ice cream scene, one that could be shut down entirely by state rules, she recently learned.
She says that a couple of weeks ago a representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health came to Logan Square Kitchen and informed her she’d have to shut down if she did not get something called “a dairy license.”
Swanberg and others in her field had operated for years now without ever hearing of such a thing and, indeed, they say, the City’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, to whom they applied for business licenses, never informed them they would need one to operate.
Apparently, they do. And in order to keep operating they’ll need to “work out of their own space,” have their ice cream tested once a month for bacteria levels, change all packaging and labels to meet state standards, and purchase a $40,000 pasteurizer.
Swanberg says that the IDPH officer who visited told her that her ice cream probably wouldn’t pass the bacteria tests if she continued to use fresh strawberries. Instead the officer suggested she use “strawberry syrup,” Swanberg said.
IDPH spokesperson Melanie Arnold said that it isn’t illegal to use real strawberries but that IDPH “does not encourage it simply because when you try and clean a strawberry to make sure it doesn’t have any bacteria, it kind of deteriorates.”
The department’s Dairy Equipment Specialist, Don Wilding, said that other ice cream producers use irradiated strawberries. He says look good but he can’t vouch for the taste.
Swanberg could continue to work without a license, Wilding said, if she used a premade ice cream mix that is usually formulated with stabilizers and other additives — the kind of thing typically used at Dairy Queens, Wilding noted.
Still, Swanberg feels that using strawberry syrup and a premade soft serve mix might not attract the same customers who buy her product made from fresh organic cream blended with local and often organic produce like basil and strawberries she picks herself.
The department could not confirm the $40,000 price tag on a pasteurizing machine. But it did confirm that, even if she uses pasteurized milk and boils all of her ingredients together, she would then need to pasteurize it in this special machine again.
I guess it could have been worse. They could have sent the SWAT team.