December 8, 2010

Hairnet story has holes, state says

Health records, worker’s own recollection paint different picture of Fryeburg Fair citation

AUGUSTA -- A turkey farmer's tale about his bald worker being cited for not wearing a hairnet while preparing food occurred at least 12 years ago to an employee with a military-style haircut, according to state records and the worker's recollection.

Bob Neal, owner of The Turkey Farm in New Sharon, said in a public forum last week that a state health inspector cited his bald employee at the farm's food tent at the Fryeburg Fair. The forum, at the University of Maine at Farmington, was held by legislators to solicit input about unreasonable state business regulations.

The farm's tent, which serves turkey dinners and sandwiches, had been cited for hair restraint violations twice in 1994, and once in 1995, 1998 and 2000, according to John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Neal was unable Tuesday to give the exact date of the inspection mentioned in his story, but said the incident took place sometime between 1994 and 1998. The farm does not have reports from that far back, he said.

Thomas McLaughlin, who Neal said was the bald employee cited by the inspector, was a police officer working part-time at the farm's food tent. His memory of his hairstyle differed from Neal's description.

"I was not completely bald at the time, but my hair was cut short, in what is typically called in the military a 'high-and-tight.' A high-and-tight is shorter than a crew cut, mostly on the sides but not completely bald," said McLaughlin, who is now an associate professor for the University of New England in Portland.

On Tuesday, Neal said he didn't recall seeing any hair on McLaughlin.

The difference between a bald person and one with any hair is the "bottom line" when it comes to this issue, said Martins.

"In absence of hair on ones' head, a person would not need to wear a hair net: If there is some hair, even if close shaven, bald on top and hair on the side, a hairnet would be required," Martins wrote in an e-mail.

There is currently no way to tie any of the listed violations to Neal's specific story, Martins added, because state inspection reports would not reference anything more than the lack of a hair restraint.

The 2000 health inspection report for the farm's tent notes "food employees not wearing effective hair restraints." It lists it as a "non-critical violation," with a comment of "personnel no (sic) using hair restraints."

Martins said the fine, depending on statute, may not be greater than $100. Each day the violation remains uncorrected may be counted as a separate offense, he added, and other consequences could include suspending or revoking a license.

State records do not indicate whether Neal was fined for these violations and Neal said he could not recall paying any fine for them.

David Robinson -- 861-9287

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