TOWNSEND — A new battleground has emerged in a town that has seen intense strife in the past two years: baked goods.
Lyn Giancotti, a longtime community activist who has been a vocal opponent of town officials amid investigations into the police department where her husband works, is no longer making and selling lemon cakes out of her home to raise money for charity because the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health noticed she did not have the necessary permits.
The NABH became involved after being contacted by Carolyn Smart, a former Townsend selectman who faced intense criticism from the recall movement with which Giancotti is aligned, about Giancotti’s lemon cakes.
Smart said she was simply inquiring about the permits at the request of another resident. Giancotti said she understands the board is doing its job.
For those who tried to recall Smart, the move appears to be a petty personal attack. And for health officials, the situation is a simple case of enforcing the rules about permits.
Bridgette Braley, food inspector for the NABH, said she “received a complaint” around June 20 from Smart saying “that there’s somebody in town selling cakes and inquiring as to whether they had the appropriate license or not.”
Braley found that Giancotti had been selling cakes on lyngiancotti.com, allowing people to pay for them with PayPal and either hand-delivering them or shipping them. Giancotti did not have the necessary residential kitchen license, Braley said. So, the NABH had no way to track the business and ensure food was properly labeled and handled.
“Any time you’re baking out of your home, you need to have a residential kitchen license whether it’s for profit or not for profit,” Braley said. “If you’re talking about allergens or, God forbid, someone is baking a product and a fingernail or glass gets in it and somebody purchases this cake, we know to go right back and find out where the cake came from.”
The NABH told Giancotti she could pay $100 to acquire a license — or, if Giancotti could provide evidence of running a nonprofit organization, she could have that fee waived — or find a commercial kitchen to continue her work. Braley said she had not yet heard if Giancotti wished to pursue any of those options.
Giancotti said she had not yet decided what she will do going forward, but in a Facebook post last week she announced Smart had reported her and she “will not be making any more cakes for fundraisers.”
“Right now, I just want to enjoy being with my kids for the summer,” she said in a brief interview.
Giancotti said she first began making and distributing lemon cakes about 18 years ago. In that time, she has donated portions of the proceeds to local causes, including youth athletic leagues and school music programs.
She also founded Mommy’s Mobile Meals that delivers homemade food to families in need around the area. Giancotti said she is waiting to hear from the NABH if she needs permits to continue that work.
“I get that whenever somebody makes a call or complaint, they have to investigate it 100 percent,” she said. “They’re just doing their jobs.”
Giancotti has also been involved politically at various points. She declared last winter that she would be running for the Board of Selectmen — in an election when Smart’s seat was up and the incumbent had not yet said publicly whether she would seek another term — before changing course.
And earlier this year, Giancotti was part of a movement that vocally criticized Smart and tried to recall her two colleagues on the Board of Selectmen before the election was blocked by the courts. The group has condemned town investigations into the police department, including one into Lyn’s husband, Lt. Mark Giancotti.
Smart did not to run for re-election. She said she had been contacted by another resident in May who was inquiring about Giancotti’s permits. The former selectman said she decided to reach out because she had interacted with Braley while working in the selectman’s office.
“I had an email from a resident who asked if (Giancotti) had the permits for cakes,” Smart said. “This had nothing to do with fundraising … I called Bridgette to ask if she had a food license, I let that (resident) know and that was all the involvement that I had.”
Braley said it is common for one resident to report another to the NABH. (The NABH is the enforcement agent for 16 local municipalities — Townsend’s Board of Health does not enforce food permits.)
“We get complaints all the time about everything,” Braley said. “It’s not uncommon at all. We tell people, sometimes people call and it’s anonymous, sometimes it’s not, but we do get complaints quite often.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.