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Question: Is it possible that this news story turned me into a Republican?

Answer: Absolutely not. But still, this story from the San Diego Union-Tribune has got me in a tizzy. Meanley & Son Hardware has given out free popcorn from an old-fashioned machine for about a quarter of a century. Last month, that came to a halt when the health department, acting on an anonymous tip from an anonymous destroyer of fun, rolled up to the hardware store and said, to paraphrase, NOPE.

Health officials told Meanley, who actually sounds very nicely, that in order to keep handing out 30-40 free bags of popcorn per day, he’d need to “install a three-basin sink to clean and sterilize the popcorn popper,” and submit to regular restaurant-style health inspections. So he rolled the cheery red machine into storage; there was no joy in Mudville; Santa doesn’t exist; et cetera.

The thing that gets me is this: the health department and their grinch of a tipster have a point, of course. “At the oily heart of this tale, there’s a hard kernel of concern,” writes the Union-Tribune, robbing The Takeout of the best popcorn-related puns in one, um, salty sentence. The piece goes on:

Food poisoning, the Department of Environmental Health warned, is just one potential problem with free popcorn.

“Potential health hazards include but are not limited to risk of foodborne illness, cross contamination, improper storage of equipment and foods, unsanitary equipment, and vermin,” a department statement maintained. “According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cross contamination of food through unclean equipment and improper food handling or hand washing are major contributors to foodborne illness.”

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The Union-Tribune adds that none of the hardware store owners they spoke to for the story had any knowledge of customers falling ill. They also note that a local bar that hands out popcorn sought permission before doing so, and the health department told them “We don’t really consider popcorn food, so you’re fine.”

In conclusion, of course we should be careful about germs and stuff, that’s a real issue, but I hate this. The hardware store in my hometown handed out popcorn, and I remember it fondly, as nostalgia is just about as tasty as those salty, fluffy little nuggets. The hardware store closest to me now does not, and they’ve also screwed up every time I’ve had keys made. Coincidence? (Yes.)