Nova Scotia

Breastfeeding mom forced to quit sales at Halifax market

Move over, cockroaches and mice. Nova Scotia has a new food safety scourge: nursing mothers.

Food safety inspector says nursing disqualifies her from handling food

Tanessa Holt opened her first business in the fall, selling dry foods at local farmers markets. After being told she can't breastfeed and sell food to customers, she has decided to close her stalls. (

Move over, cockroaches and mice. Nova Scotia has a new food safety scourge: nursing mothers.

Tanessa Holt opened her first business in the fall, selling dry foods at local farmers markets. She said she has been forced to stop selling containers of soup mix, homemade protein bars and energy balls, and prepackaged oatmeal and granola.

Holt has been bringing her 7½-month-old son to the markets, since he has never liked taking bottles and is still dependent on breast milk.

But that was a problem, a food safety inspector told Holt on Monday.

"I have no problem with you breastfeeding at the booth, as long as there is another person that is at the booth with you, who can serve food to the customers," wrote the inspector in an email provided to CBC News.

Holt said she had no other option but to shut down her stall, because as a fledgling business owner, she can't afford to hire someone.

After Holt said goodbye to her market customers on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the provincial Department of Agriculture apologized and said the decision was likely a misunderstanding.

"The department is contacting the inspector to get full details of the situation," Krista Higdon wrote in an email.

Breast-fed and bottle-fed babies should pose no public health risk if proper procedures are followed, she wrote.

"Any diaper changes must occur in an appropriate area, not in the market booth, and hand washing must occur before service to customers resumes," Higdon wrote.

Earlier on Tuesday, Holt said she was told in a followup conversation with the inspector that breastfeeding even once at the booth disqualifies her from handling food, no matter how clean she stays or what precautions she takes.

"If I set up there in the morning and I nurse him, at say, 10 o'clock in the morning, then for the remainder of the day, someone else has to handle the food," she said.

Vomit, feces from baby are concerns, says inspector

In the email, the inspector wrote: "The food safety concern is contamination of food through possible throw up and/or feces coming from the baby. This would include you burping the baby after nursing or you having to change the infant's diaper between serving customers."

Holt was told by an inspector that breastfeeding even once at the booth disqualifies her from handling food. The provincial Department of Agriculture says this is not the case and is investigating. (Tanessa Holt)

Holt has been food-safety certified and said this kind of contamination isn't happening.

There's a bathroom nearby to change the baby and wash up. Her clothes are covered with a receiving blanket when she nurses, and, like most mothers, she has extra layers to wear in case the blanket doesn’t do the job.

At the market or at home, "I don't want to walk around with baby puke on me," she said.

Holt said she washes her hands regularly at a station next to her booth and she wears gloves to handle the few items that aren't prepackaged.

Nova Scotia Food Safety regulations don't mention breastfeeding. The Department of Agriculture looked into the matter after someone saw Holt nursing and called the province about it, though she doesn't know who, she said.

Goodbye to customers

"This is where I got frustrated, because there are so many violations that are blatant," she said. "Food that isn't covered, people who handle money and then handle food without wearing gloves."

She said she alerted the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market before launching Food Noise that she would be nursing but no one realized it would be a problem. 

Seaport spokesman Lane Farguson said safety is the market's "top priority" and it follows the lead of the Department of Agriculture when it comes to the specifics of food handling.

A spokesperson for the Alderney Landing market wasn't available for comment.

Holt will soon open a store in Dartmouth, but right now farmers markets — in Halifax, Dartmouth and Beaver Bank — make up half her business.

Her husband sometimes helps out, but she said it's not viable for both of them to spend all day at the markets, and he shouldn't have to take over the booth.

"He supports me, but it's my business," she said. "I know the ingredients, I know the clients, I know the food."


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