Food

Trump's Mar-a-Lago Slapped With Over a Dozen Food Violations

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is lucky he didn't get sick. Others might not be so fortunate.

Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, an estate owned by the Trump Organization.
Photo Credit: Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock

Before he became president, Donald Trump was reported to have personally checked out the kitchens at his Mar-a-Lago resort and even conducted staff inspections. "At the time, Mar-a-Lago passed inspections with flying colors, with one or two violations at most," reports the Miami Herald.

Oh, how times have changed.

A recent visit to Trump's Palm Beach golf club by Florida state health and safety inspectors found 13 violations, including broken fridges that were unable to keep meat and fish at safe temperatures, tap water not hot enough to safely sanitize workers' hands and a walk-in freezer shelf coated in rust. The report, which detailed the findings of the January 26 inspection, also noted that "raw or undercooked [fish had] not undergone proper parasite destruction."

"Meat wasn't stored at the required 41 degrees," reports the New York Daily News. "Inspectors found chicken was stored at a potentially dangerous 49 degrees, duck and raw beef at a whopping 50 degrees and ham at a practically scalding 57 degrees. Staff was ordered to empty and repair them immediately."

Caveat emptor: Mar-a-Lago turkey burgers before being cooked. (image: Miriam Kato/Flickr CC)

"These infractions were part of a routine inspection and were not complaint-based," Stephen Lawson, communications director for the Department of Business & Professional Regulation, said in a statement. "The infractions were corrected on site," he added, “and the establishment was immediately brought into compliance.”

But if guests of Mar-a-Lago—who pay at least $200,000 in membership fees—were to fall ill due to food poisoning, it wouldn't be all that surprising. America may be the home of apple pie, but a lot of those apples are rotten and fermenting. As the Center for Food Safety's George Kimbrell points out on AlterNet:

Foodborne illness is an epidemic in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year one in six Americans (around 50 million people) is sickened by foodborne illness from contamination and pathogens in our food supply. Listeria in imported cheese and cantaloupe. Salmonella in peanut butter, imported papayas, dog food, and mangoes. E. coli in lettuce and spinach. The list goes on and on.

The food violations at Mar-a-Lago could actually serve as a bellwether for more foodborne illness to come, as the stage is now set for Congress to put Americans more at risk by weakening food safety rules through the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 5).

Dubbing it the "Unsafe Food Act," Kimbrell, a senior attorney at CFS, warns that the legislation, which has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, "compromises food safety by intentionally creating a roadblock of time-consuming, unnecessary, and unprecedented obstacles to the long-established agency rule-making process through which public protections are implemented." He adds:

If the Unsafe Food Act passes, those agencies entrusted with protecting the American public’s health will be hamstrung, unable to do so. The bill would cause needless delays and expenses to the rulemaking process. ... It would make agencies consider factors that go beyond protecting the public health, safety, or the environment, with business interests trumping all other considerations.

While food safety is critical to maintaining public health, it takes on an intensely political dimension when diplomacy is part of the equation and the main course may come with a side of E. coli. The Mar-a-Lago violations were discovered just two weeks before the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the resort. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited in early April.

"[We] had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen," said Trump, recalling the moment during Xi's visit when he approved the Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian air base. "And President Xi was enjoying it." The menu for the formal dinner included two of Trump's favorites: dry-aged steak and whipped potatoes.

Joining some former State Department officials who criticized the decision to host President Xi and his wife Qi Xin at Trump's Palm Beach golf resort, Sen. John McCain said in an interview with Politico: "I do know in the past an ideal setting for real serious negotiations has been Camp David," the presidential retreat nestled in the wooded hills of Maryland.

So far, Trump is the first president not to make use of the retreat where President Jimmy Carter famously brokered the Camp David Accords in 1978 between Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It's not clear what the men tucked into during those talks, but if it's true that diplomacy runs on its stomach, food safety was most likely not an issue, as the meetings led to the first-ever peace treaty between Israel and any of its Arab neighbors.

Capricia Marshall, who served as Hillary Clinton's chief of protocol when the former presidential candidate was Secretary of State, explained to the Times that menu-planning and food preparation are critical components of good diplomacy. "We are sharing our culture with our guests," she said.

If the Unsafe Food Act passes, that culture may be bacterial in nature.

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Reynard Loki is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy’s Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch, Truthdig, National Memo, Green America, Regeneration International, Revelist, Resilience and BlackBook, among others. Reynard is also the co-founder of MomenTech, an experimental production studio based in New York and Prague that has presented dozens of projects around the world exploring intersections of culture, history, politics, science and sports. Follow him on Twitter: @reynardloki or email him at [email protected]ind.media.