Food for homeless will not require state OK
Health Department rules for kitchens are halted for 4 months
Church and community organizations will not need state approval to prepare food in kitchens used solely to feed homeless people.
That means the organizations will not have to undergo annual inspections and file biannual permit applications.
"This is a return to a time that maybe was forgotten or lost in America, when brothers and sisters reached out to those in need in their community without guilt," said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, state health director.
The state Department of Health yesterday suspended food-preparation rules for food offered free to homeless people. The suspension is for 120 days, during which time the Health Department will hold public hearings to make the suspension permanent.
The groups that prepare the food will make sure that it is safe, said Lt. Gov. James Aiona.
"I assume and I presume (that) we will all make sure that the food that we prepare and serve to them is healthy, it's clean and it's edible," he said.
Kitchens that are used for other purposes besides preparing free food for homeless people will still need to get state approval. But the Health Department will give their permit applications priority, Fukino said.
Groups that wanted to serve meals at the Next Step homeless shelter in Kakaako petitioned to change the rules after they were told last September that the food they serve must be prepared in a Health Department-approved kitchen.
Some groups were able to find approved kitchens while others were offered the use of the one at First United Methodist Church at 1020 S. Beretania St., said Samiana Langi, who with her husband started H-5, which runs Next Step. But the kitchen at First United Methodist can accommodate only so many groups. And some groups found it hard to transport their pots, pans, utensils and food ingredients to the kitchen, then transport the food to Kakaako, she said.
Langi said of the 15 to 20 groups that expressed interest in preparing meals for Next Step, only five to eight do so regularly. She said she welcomes the rule change because it will reduce the number of meals H-5 has to prepare.
"It does lift a lot of the burden of having to cook so many days. You can only be so creative," she said.
River of Life Mission serves free meals to hundreds of people every day, many of them homeless. General Manager Marie-Susan Marchant said she plans to maintain her organization's food establishment permit because the kitchen provides job training for people recovering from addiction.
"We prefer to get inspected," she said.
And, she said, there's still the issue of liability.
"Just because the state says you don't need a permit, it's not going to make you immune from getting sued if somebody gets sick."