Food Freedom

Good News! The Benevolent State of California Will Let You Have Proper Vietnamese Rice Cakes

Yes, it takes a bill to allow the food to be sold at the appropriate temperature.


Banh Chung
Cathy Chaplin | / CC BY-ND

Assuming California Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB969, it will become legal for citizens of the state to buy and consume Vietnamese rice cakes as they were intended—at room temperature.

Vietnamese rice cakes (called banh chung or banh tet) are steamed foods made with rice, beans, and meat or fruit, wrapped tightly in a banana leaf and cooked. They're associated with the Vietnamese New Year and are intended to be served at room temperature.

Oh, no: cooked food served at room temperature. Yes, this is a problem in California. Safety issues, people! What if somebody gets sick? In California, the food is supposed to be sold refrigerated, which apparently ruins it.

California law currently permits Korean rice cakes (which are completely different) to be sold at room temperature, but they can only be for sale for 24 hours and then must be disposed of. SB969 would add Vietnamese rice cakes to the same rules. So food shops will be able to make the cakes (which take hours of cooking by the way), and sell them for 24 hours. Anything they don't sell during that time must be tossed. There's also a label requirement to both indicate the time and date of food prep and to warn that the cake must be consumed within 24 hours.

The legislation passed in a flurry of activity this week as the end of the legislative session approaches. State lawmakers acted on hundreds of bills, advancing some, amending some, and tabling others.

Some of the other legislation passed included some streamlining of the environmental review process for developers, but only if they're really big ones like sports arenas. Anybody else trying to build anything in the state is going to have to just suck it up and plan for the inevitable lawsuits.

There's good news in the bills that died, too. A bill attempting to increase penalties for the opioid drug fentanyl to put it on par with heroin and cocaine died. On the other hand, also killed off were bills to give whistleblower protections for employees of lawmakers, a bill that gave tax breaks for Olympic medals, and a bill that would give parents more leeway to transfer their children to other school districts.

Legislators have until the end of August to pass whatever they're going to pass. The Los Angeles Times is keeping up with some of the other major proposals here.

Related: Today I seem to be blogging about food safety meddling. Some poor woman in Texas who is among one of probably hundreds of people selling tamales without a proper permit, got handed a massive fine by her home town. Also, check Reason out Saturday morning for a piece by food writer Baylen Linnekin about how government regulations (like the ones above) contribute to food waste.