Honey monger James Kozak didn’t show up at a Tisbury board of health hearing Tuesday afternoon that focused on his products. The hearing was rescheduled from October at Mr. Kozak’s request.
Health agent Maura Valley told the board that Mr. Kozak informed town counsel of his decision not to attend because he saw no benefit to it. Ms. Valley ordered Mr. Kozak’s honey brand, Martha’s Vineyard Honey Co., off store shelves last month after she discovered questionable sanitation and processing conditions in a commercial unit he’d recently been evicted from. In a unanimous vote, the board ordered the destruction of all honey found in the unit.
“Based on the unsanitary condition of the unit where the product was being processed and/or stored,” Ms. Valley said in a carefully worded recommendation, “and the unsanitary condition of the product containers, the unknown and unlicensed packaging operation and the adulterated nature of the product due to the addition of unapproved and/or unknown substances, I believe the honey is unfit for human consumption, and recommend that the product placed under the food hold be destroyed to prevent introduction into the regional market.”
The vote was amended to stipulate that prior to its destruction the honey be held in storage until any underlying legal matters, such as appeals by Mr. Kozak, are resolved.
Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Mr. Kozak told The Times that he believed board of health destruction of his property was “outside of their jurisdiction.” He once again said the items removed from his former unit are the “fruits of a warrantless search.”
Mr. Kozak would not respond directly to accusations by Tisbury and the commonwealth health officials alleging that he packaged and distributed off-Island honey. Once again, he said the assertion stems from tainted evidence “that will not survive a motion to suppress” it.
Ms. Valley said she had permission from the landlord of the property to conduct the search.
Ahead of the vote, Ms. Valley informed the board that she’s been in extensive contact with Eric Hickey, assistant director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) Food Protection Program. From him she learned that farms are exempt if they pack and distribute their own honey in its original form, and that farms and beekeepers are allowed to distribute their own honey from their own hives. However, adding flavorings or essences constitutes processing, and would require a DPH license. Also, buying honey from other sources and repacking it constitutes food processing or food distribution, and requires a license.
After reviewing photographic evidence, Ms. Valley said the Food Protection Program determined that “possible unsanitary conditions” were present at Mr. Kozak’s former unit. She told the board that the program contacted the manufacturer of the essences Mr. Kozak ostensibly used to infuse his honey and was informed “that the products were not intended for use in food or for human consumption. The essences were described as intended for aromatherapy purposes only.”
Ms. Valley added that “posts on Mr. Kozak’s Facebook page stated that he did, in fact, infuse his honey with different flavorings.” She said she believed Mr. Kozak sold the infused honey at open-air markets and the uninfused honey in grocery stores.
Merrimack Valley Apiaries confirmed that Mr. Kozak made bulk purchases of raw honey, a New England product, and filtered wildflower honey, a Louisiana product, Ms. Valley said. The confiscated buckets are labeled “wildflower honey”; however, Ms. Valley said any retail jars she’s come across state the honey hails from New England. Repacking of either product requires a license from a local board of health, and wholesaling requires a state license, she pointed out.
“Mr. Kozak has never been licensed by any of the Island boards of health to process honey,” she said, and added that he has also never been licensed by the state.
“For the record,” assistant health agent Catie Fuller said, “he only has it labeled as ‘made in New England’ because Healthy Additions made him do that, because they knew it wasn’t coming from Island honey, even though he says it is. And they would not sell it misadvertised. So they forced him to put that on the bottom of the jars.”
Ms. Valley told the board that it was her understanding that Cronig’s wants to return the honey they now have sequestered for a refund.
“I have a concern that if the product was returned to Mr. Kozak that it’s going to be resold,” board member Jeffrey Pratt said. He suggested requesting that Tisbury retailers turn over the honey to the board of health for safekeeping and eventual disposal.
“Allowing it to stay out there means that it could be put into distribution and consumed by Tisbury residents,” vice chairman Michael Loberg said.
Ms. Valley said she would consult with the Food Protection Program on how to proceed with retailer-held honey.
Lastly, adding insult to infusion, Ms. Valley informed the board that Mr. Kozak’s previous landlord told her that he’d been living in the commercial unit where the honey operation was uncovered.
Cameo in West Tisbury
West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson told The Times that Mr. Kozak made an unscheduled appearance at a board of health meeting last month. Mr. Johnson accompanied Ms. Valley during her inspection of Mr. Kozak’s Vineyard Haven unit, and then ordered Martha’s Vineyard Honey Co. honey off the shelves of up-Island Cronig’s. Those were the primary issues raised by Mr. Kozak, Mr. Johnson said. The board afforded Mr. Kozak some time, but wasn’t rewarded for its efforts, he said, because he dodged the numerous questions they had about his operations, sanitation, and permitting, among others. “We could not get clear answers from him,” he said.
Mr. Kozak spent a good deal of time expounding on what rights of his had been violated in Tisbury, and insisted that the West Tisbury board of health distance itself from the Tisbury board of health, Mr. Johnson said.
In a letter to that board also provided to The Times, Mr Kozak wrote, “I am formally requesting that your board disavow cooperation with the Tisbury Board of Health and cease any enforcement actions undertaken within your town, as it relates to Agent Maura Valley’s warrantless search and seizure of my private property …”
During a report last month and again at Tuesday’s hearing, Ms. Valley noted that Mr. Kozak signed a release with the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office that authorized the disposal of the contents of his commercial unit in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Johnson gave no indication that his office would capitulate to Mr. Kozak’s demands.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kozak said he intends to take legal action against all of the Island boards of health, which he claimed are jointly responsible for damage to his business. Judge J. Thomas Kirkman treats him unfairly by “accepting unverified statements from the other side,” but “from me, case law and statute are meaningless,” Mr. Kozak said.
Mr. Kozak reaffirmed his commitment to get West Tisbury board of health to disavow Tisbury’s enforcement and seizure actions. “They’ve refused to get back to me,” he said.