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Friday, April 12, 2024

Owner of Anna’s Kitchen pays $100,000 settlement after UC Davis students got sick

Food sold to students on campus without permit

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office has reached a settlement with Xin Jiang, a man who made several UC Davis students sick by selling them meals through his unlicensed business, Anna’s Kitchen. Anna’s Kitchen did not have a proper permit from the Yolo County Health Department for the sale and transportation of food, though it was advertised and operated through a popular Chinese app, WeChat. 

A press release issued by the Yolo County District Attorney’s office detailed the financial terms of the settlement. 

“Mr. Jiang will pay $106,997 in costs and penalties, and will forfeit an additional $90,000 in penalties if he is discovered operating Anna’s Kitchen or offering any type of food for retail purchase without a valid permit going forward,” the press release read. 

Jiang had been selling improperly handled food to students on campus, specifically in parking lots near Olson Hall and residential areas. Not only did Jiang lack a permit, but he also stored meals for longer than 30 minutes without proper heating or refrigeration, which increases the risk for foodborne illness. 

Deputy District Attorney Rachel Hilzinger, the prosecutor of the case, elaborated on how governmental agencies became aware of Anna’s Kitchen. 

“Chinese foreign exchange students had contacted Environmental Health and complained either about themselves getting sick or knowing friends, roommates or fellow classmates that reported becoming sick after ordering and eating food that was delivered to them by Anna’s Kitchen,” Hilzinger said.

Though it is hard to know how many students fell ill from consuming food prepared by Anna’s Kitchen, members of the UC Davis Environmental Health and Safety department acted quickly to prevent more illnesses. They contacted Jiang once they established a connection between Anna’s Kitchen and the prevalence of foodborne illnesses and referred him to the Yolo County Environmental Health Division. 

Lewis Kimble, the Supervising Environmental Health Specialist from Yolo County’s Consumer Protection Unit, explained that quick, preventative measures are crucial to limiting the spread of foodborne illness, and they rely on the responsiveness of the community, as in this case.

“We need people to tell us when they’ve eaten food from a restaurant, and they’ve gotten sick,” Kimble said. “Then, we can do an environmental assessment in a restaurant to see if it was the temperature, handling or preparation of the food that caused the foodborne illness.”

After the county gave him a notice of violation, Jiang still served students through Anna’s Kitchen. That is when the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office was contacted, according to Hilzinger.

“Our unit only really gets involved for the most recalcitrant or uncooperative individuals or businesses,” Hilzinger said. “The reason why this case had come to us was that it had escalated over time.”

The Yolo County District Attorney monitored WeChat for sales from Anna’s Kitchen and reached out to the students that had been affected. Anna’s Kitchen not only sold and distributed food without regulation, but it unfairly disadvantaged licensed restaurants in the Davis area, according to Hilzinger. 

“Think about all the other restaurants in Davis, or Chinese food restaurants in Davis, that are trying to do it properly,” Hilzinger said. “They are paying for the permit, they are delivering within the 30 minutes window and they are regulating the temperature of their food properly. It’s just not fair to businesses that are doing it lawfully when other people and other entities like Anna’s Kitchen can essentially profit off the fact that they don’t have a permit, and they aren’t doing it the right way.”

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office works to ensure businesses are in compliance with a wide range of services that do not necessarily include the sale and distribution of food, such as hazardous waste and unlicensed contractors. Hilzinger mentioned that businesses are generally receptive once they realize they’ve been violating the law, as Jiang was. 

“Mr. Jiang was very cooperative with our prosecution, and he was very cooperative throughout the investigation,” said Hilzinger. “He really did — in good faith — stop operating after we explained to him what the case looks like against him.”

Jiang’s business was “basically an unpermitted home kitchen, that was also offering delivery services in Davis,” according to Hilzinger. Kimble said that though home kitchen operations were legalized in California through the passage of AB 626, Riverside County was the only county in the state that opted-in once the bill was passed, making home kitchen operations illegal in Yolo County. 

“Yolo County had decided to opt-out of it and our Board of Supervisors has supported that,” Kimble said. 

Written by: Madeleine Payne — city@theaggie.org 

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