When Government Hands You Lemons

According to health inspectors in Portland, Oregon, this little girl is potentially a threat to your health and safety.

Late last month a seven year old girl in Portland, Oregon got a lesson in what it means to encounter a petty bureaucrat:

It’s hardly unusual to hear small-business owners gripe about licensing requirements or complain that heavy-handed regulations are driving them into the red.

So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again.

Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license.

Turns out that kids’ lemonade stands — those constants of summertime — are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors.

“I understand the reason behind what they’re doing and it’s a neighborhood event, and they’re trying to generate revenue,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. “But we still need to put the public’s health first.”


Technically, any lemonade stand — even one on your front lawn — must be licensed under state law, said Eric Pippert, the food-borne illness prevention program manager for the state’s public health division. But county inspectors are unlikely to go after kids selling lemonade on their front lawn unless, he conceded, their front lawn happens to be on Alberta Street during Last Thursday.

“When you go to a public event and set up shop, you’re suddenly engaging in commerce,” he said. “The fact that you’re small-scale I don’t think is relevant.”

Kawaguchi, who oversees the two county inspectors involved, said they must be fair and consistent in their monitoring, no matter the age of the person. “Our role is to protect the public,” he said.

Yes, because seven year old girls are a well known threat to the health and safety of the public.

I understand the need for health inspectors, especially at large public events like this apparently was, but there’s such a thing as common sense and discretion, even among government bureaucrats. When you see a little girl with her Mom selling lemonade and Kool-Aid, the proper response isn’t “Where’s your permit ? “, it’s “Yes, I’ll take two.”

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened over the past few years. A quick Google search reveals similar incidents over the past few years in Massachusetts and California. It isn’t a big problem, obviously, but it is an indication of bureaucrats applying rules that give them broad discretion without using the slightest degree of common sense. If this is how they treat seven year olds, one wonders how they treat adults.

There is good news in Portland, though, cooler heads have prevailed and it seems the lemonade stand has won:

No need to jack up the price of a glass of lemonade. Turns out kids won’t have to shell out $120 for a health permit to run their lemonade stands after all.

Multnomah County’s top elected official apologized Thursday for health inspectors who forced a 7-year-old girl to shut down her stand last week because she didn’t have a food-safety permit.

Chairman Jeff Cogen also said he has directed county health department workers to use “professional discretion” in doing their jobs.


Cogen said the inspectors were “following the rule book,” but should consider that food-safety laws are aimed at adults engaged in a professional food business, not kids running lemonade stands.

“A lemonade stand is a classic, iconic American kid thing to do,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the business of shutting that down.”

Gee, do ya think ?

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It is good to learn that the Multnomah County Health Department has been so effective in dealing with all of the problems that face it that it can devote time to this matter.

  2. JKB says:

    Wait a minute, at the top of the post there is a deep need to protect the public’s health but by the end the county’s top executive has arbitrarily suspended these public health rules when applied to those most likely to not have an understanding of how their actions can threaten people’s health?  Either there is a threat to the public’s health that is now at risk or the county executive just waived the revenue collection scheme for a favored and very cute demographic.
    Don’t get me wrong, the SOP in these situation should be to conduct a courtesy inspection, use it to teach Julie how she can protect her customers and only go bureaucrat if there is a clear and present danger.  But either the operation must be licensed for public health safety or the license is the county’s payoff to do business.
    And these are rare events because the school system had been very effective in training students to resist urges to engage in such distasteful behavior as commerce and to fear entrepreneurism and initiative.

    “Mommy, mommy, profit is hiding in my closet and keeps whispering about how I could organize a business to make it grow!”
    “There, there honey.  Profits used to grow and grow but now we have government workers who chip away at profit a small bit at a time but there are many, many government workers to in the end, profit is almost non-existent.  Now close your eyes and dream about all the wonderful things the politicians will buy you if you behave properly.”

  3. Tano says:

    ‘If this is how they treat seven year olds, one wonders how they treat adults.”
    Huh? Isn’t the supposed problem here that they would have been acting perfectly appropriately if their target had been an adult?
    And, not to be too much of a contrarian here, but are seven-year old girls somehow far less likely to violate safe food-handling principles than are adults? This was not a little stand set up on ones front lawn – where the lemonade served is essentially what you would get if you were invited into the family’s kitchen. This was a stand set up at a public event where the ingredients (powdered mix, ice, etc) was sitting around outdoors for hours, with hundreds of people milling about.
    If a 47 year old adult were running that stand, should they have had a permit – or been subject to health inspection? I imagine that we will soon see 47-year olds who run food stands putting their children out front – since they are now to be exempted from rules protecting public health.
    I think the politician who overturned this was not so much exercising common sense, but rather exercising a good PR sense, since he could tell how this story was being played in the media (just like you play it here).

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Doug you are so naive. The terrorists have no qualms about recruiting little girls, and quite frankly I think there’s something jihadist going on there. Look into her eyes.  I see evil!  That is no regular lemonade.  I suspect anthrax.  And then what, Doug?  Are you willing to die a slow, agonizing death?
    Better safe than sorry:  Guantanamo.

  5. steve says:

    Entertaining, but not sure what it means for the rest of the world. Some idiot, probably with a chip on his shoulder, did something dumb. Should we choose the dumbest behaviors by those in business as the standard by which they should be measured?

  6. Yes, because seven year old girls are a well known threat to the health and safety of the public

    Well, as a father of three, I have to admit that seven year olds aren’t exactly the cleanest of creatures and frequently tend to have colds and other minor illnesses.  They aren’t too savvy about covering sneezes and coughs and we won’t get into how they handle runny noses and the like.  They also require constant reminders about hand-washing (and the proper usage of soap).

    In all honesty I am of multiple positions on this.  On the one hand, the overall story is, in fact, a bit ridiculous (i.e, health inspectors cracking down on 7 year olds).  But on the other, if a food stand is going to operate in a public venue, I can understand the basic rule.

    I will say this for sure:  despite the cuteness of it all, I have no personal interest in buying food products from random small children for reasons noted above—but then again, perhaps that’s the market at work and doesn’t require the intervention of health inspectors.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, when government hands you lemons, look around to see who they took them from.  Government does not produce anything.  They only take shit.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Government does not produce anything.
    Do you produce anything? Aside from hot air, that is…