When your family owns and operates a place called Smiling Hill Farm, you tend to go through life with a grin. But last week, the best Warren Knight could manage was a grimace.
It started with a spot inspection from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- it happens every year or two at the Westbrook dairy farm and has never been a big deal.
But this time was different. Looking over a fresh batch of the Smiling Hill egg nog, the inspector did a double take: The bottle cap -- the only place on the otherwise all-glass container with any printing -- was out of federal compliance.
How so? "Eggs were not listed as an ingredient," Knight recalled.
Egg, you see, is an allergen. As such, the inspector told Knight, it must be explicitly listed as an ingredient somewhere on the one-and-three-eighths-inch-wide cap.
"But the cap says 'Egg Nog!' " protested Knight.... Didn't matter.
"But we're limited by cap space," Knight persisted. What's more, they can't start slapping warning labels onto their reusable bottles without gumming up the bottle washer.
Not the feds' problem.
Then things turned really sour. The FDA notified the Maine Department of Agriculture that all Smiling Hill egg nog on store shelves -- about 400 gallons at that point -- had to be recalled to protect people with egg allergies who don't know there's egg in egg nog.
Enter, not a moment too soon, Ashley Slattery, Maine's dairy inspector.
"We really didn't want to do a recall," Slattery said Friday. Still, she added, the FDA wanted something on that cap "so the people would know egg nog contains eggs."
Umm ... wouldn't people already know that by the name of the product?
"You'd think so," Slattery said.
So here's the deal. No recall, but Knight agreed to have his label redesigned to include the ingredients and, in the meantime, affix a warning label to every bottle of egg nog that leaves his farm.
Knight headed for Staples Thursday and bought a bunch of red, one-inch-round labels. Then he fired up his computer and printed "WARNING Contains EGGS" twice on each one.
Then he and the rest of the family spent the day cutting each label in half and affixing the semi-circular warnings to the cap on each bottle -- being careful not to encroach on the bar code.
"Someday we're going to look back at this and laugh," chortled one of the workers.
Replied Knight, "Yeah, but it won't be tomorrow."