Manipulador de Alimentos

First, they said on social media that getting your driving license in Spain was impossible for Americans. And I believed them, for awhile. Then I thought ‘There are millions of Spaniards who drive. And they aren’t all significantly more intelligent than me.’ So I started Googling, begging, and digging into it. And guess what? It turns out you can get your Spanish driving license as an American.

Was it difficult? Well, it wasn’t easy. More jumping through hoops. Forms and stamps. Fotos in the kiosk in the subway in Valencia, by the gross. Learning driving a stick shift en español. But eventually, I figured it out. And I was very proud of myself the day they handed me that ‘L’ to put on my car. Those of you who have followed this blog remember that saga. And it was a saga. Jeff went through it, too. Right before we were hit with COVID. But he just had to follow my instructions, and the bread crumbs I had so clearly laid out for him. Well, OK. Really, he just had to comply when I dragged him all over Valencia from one oficina to the next to submit forms, pay fees, and take tests. But, in the end, he was very glad he did.

Now that I am looking to open a food truck this spring on the Camino Frances, I have even more to figure out. So I went to the Ayuntamiento (town hall) for the Concello de Palas de Rei, and I brought them some cookies and a list of questions. They were lovely, even without the cookies, and they answered everything. According to the Concello, because I have a food truck, and not a fixed building, I don’t need to obtain a license from them to do business. And technically, this is true. But it is not the entire story.

I was speaking to our contractor, Diego. We were going over the permitting process and what we will need to do. He asked about the food truck and I told him I had gone to Palas to ask my questions. He squinted like he was in pain.

‘You went and spoke to them in person?’

I said I had.

‘It might be true that you don’t need a business license because your food truck could be taken anywhere. That seems reasonable. But you will need other things. I am not exactly sure what they all are but there will be other licenses.’ Then he had a suggestion. ‘Miguel and I have a friend in Arzua who has a food truck on the Camino. Let me call them and ask what you will need. But I think you must take a food safety course. I think it is, maybe, 50 or 100 hours of training or something like that. It might be difficult for you in Spanish.’

Holy moly! Fifty to one hundred hours of training on food safety? What?!? I just celebrated being able to speak to Vodafone Spanish customer service on the phone, in Spanish. Weeks in a classroom learning food safety in español? And then pass an exam? There is no way. Jeff and I walked into Melide yesterday and this was a hot topic of conversation over the 14 km round trip. I had no idea how I was going to solve it.

Part of my long term goal is getting my Spanish citizenship. Passing the Spanish history and society exam will not be difficult for me. I have taken Spanish history classes in Spain, read many books, and have learned a great deal about how the government operates here. With bit of study, I should be fine. But I must get my language skills to above A2 to pass the language requirement. Since we have to be residents for 10 years, I have plenty of time to become proficient in both of these areas en español. Suddenly, the Spanish food safety course seems a lot harder than the citizenship exam.

I’ve taken a food safety course before in the US. When I was 16 years old and wanted an afterschool job. I had to go to a place in the dodgy part of town, to a building with peeling paint, and sit through an all day class on a Saturday. At the conclusion of the course, we all took the exam. Even at 16, it felt a bit like overkill. And the building itself seemed ironically unsanitary. Now I miss that building, and the course en inlges.

Deep breath. Every day I do at least one thing, big or small, that will get me closer to my current top three goals. Writing and doing book things, of course. But the first priority, right this minute, is opening my food truck. Diego will get back to me next week with a schedule as to when the bathroom construction can begin. My food truck manufacturer in Barcelona has some outstanding questions to answer after my email to him from last week. And today, I decided I would spend some time researching this devilish exam and where the hell I am even going to sit for the course in the middle of Covid. But knowledge is power. Even if it’s not good news.

Google, Google, Google. I learned all about the Certificado Manipulador de Alimentos (the certificate to manipulate food aka a food handler card) and why it is important. Apparently, pre-Covid, all the municipalities administered their own food safety classes and exams. But, in the midst of Covid, most of this is done online. So I went out to the Consello website. I figure they must have an online course. But it appears they do not. Yet now, there are plenty of other online companies who have sprung up to fill the void. And, surprise! I found one and it turns out 100 or even 50 hours of study is not required. You must pass an exam of 10 questions, then they will issue you the certificate digitally. I found this interesting, because we met some American people here running an Albergue and the guy showed us a large volume for food safety. And it was all in Spanish.

I decided I would roll the dice. What is the worst that could happen? I fail a food safety exam and have to take it again? The shame of it. So, before studying for one minute I took the test online. To gauge my current knowledge. I did not agree with all the answers, but over the years I have learned that a test isn’t always a measure of the truth or even the course material. It’s more about how you take the test. What are they looking for? That is all that matters. Just like the written driving theory test in Spain. And guess what? I scored 100%. I am now a proud card carrying member of the Spanish food service community. My parents would be so proud. First, a Spanish driving license. Now a certified carnet as a Manipulador de Alimentos. It’s in my wallet along with my Permiso de Conduccion. Not only am I legal to tow my new food truck on my newly certified tow hitch. But I can stop anywhere along the way, cook food and serve it! If the Guardia Civil swings by our gate and asks me for my documents I will proudly point to the Certificado that will be framed in the food truck. ‘You know I paid a cool €20 for that.’ 😉

All this sounds ridiculous. But when you live a foreign country where you are slowly learning the lingo, and have a goal with no idea how to go about tackling all the bureaucratic hoops you must jump through to achieve it, when you figure out just one of them it’s like a miracle. The sun just broke through the clouds on this stormy, blustery day here in Galicia. At least figuratively. And I’m very sure I will sleep just that much better tonight. But the real moral of this story is that we should never be deterred by the opinions and limitations of others. I have a Sargadelos talisman I keep in my wallet that purports to ward off negative energy and the fears of others. And it’s good to know, so far, it seems to be working.

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