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Compliance with Modern Food Safety Regulations Challenging for Traditional Amish Deli

Meat hangs in Matthew Secich's Charcuterie shop in Unity
Jennifer Mitchell

An Amish deli in Unity that recently attracted national attention for both its meats and its owner's high profile background as a chef may soon close. Matthew Secich, who runs Charcuterie, told the Bangor Daily News this week that food safety regulations are too overwhelming.

The handmade meats that Matthew Secich makes at Charcuterie struck a chord with customers when he opened late last year...and so did his personal story. He told MPBN in January about his background working at renowned restaurants like Charlie Trotter's in Chicago.

".... it was a wild tale of chasing the — I guess you could call it the four-star holy grail of the cuisine world and traveled all over the country, working at various great restaurants, working for great chefs, hoping to one day be great."

Secich abandoned that career for a simpler life, ultimately adopting the Amish faith and settling in Unity with his family. But as business grew when he opened Charcuterie's doors, so too did the associated paperwork. MPBN was unable to reach Secich for comment for this story. But earlier this week he told the Bangor Daily News that he's considering closing his deli because of what he says are overly burdensome food safety regulations.

John Bott is a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. He says one point of concern is the ice house Secich uses instead of a refrigerator. Amish shun electricity.

"You have to keep meats at a required 41-degree-Fahrenheit temperature, which is relatively easy to obtain using modern technology, but with an ice house, it could present some challenges."

Bott says other states with Amish businesses don't allow ice houses, though the Department is open to Secich keeping his if they can determine it's safe. Another issue is a federal requirement to create what's called a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan. It's an operating plan that lays out strict protocols to minimize food safety hazards. And to comply, it takes mountains of paperwork, says Andre Bonneau of the Sausage Kitchen in Lisbon Falls.

"My father and mother started the business in 1995. It was literally a mom and pop operation, and it has grown from there."

But Bonneau says as far as regulations go, his mom and pop shop is treated the same as big businesses like Oscar Meyer, Perdue, and Tyson Meats.

"And so it is difficult, if not impossible, and quite expensive for a little organization like us for example, to not only comply initially when you go into business, but keep up with compliance as time goes on because none of this is static," Bonneau says. "I feel very comfortable that there's not going to be a competitor out there starting, because it's just so complex."

Andrew Smith of Smith's Smokehouse in Monroe has been smoking meats for 30 years. He says he's managed to keep up with the regulations because it's been a steady increase over the decades. But he has had to drop some of his products.

"I don't do beef jerky anymore because they've made it so it's impossible for the little guy to make beef jerky," Smith says.

Bonneau says the one-size-fits all food safety regulations don't make sense. Small businesses, he says, should have more leeway. But for now, John Bott from the Maine Department of Agriculture says the department is committed to working with businesses to help them succeed.

"Facilities selling retail milk products in Maine have increased from 40 in 2000 to 155 today. We've had raw milk sellers increase from 11 in 2000 to 64 today."

As for the local meat business? Bott says he's confident the Department can come up with creative solutions to help Charcuterie in Unity keep selling sausage and other meats.