Washington Backs Off Controversial Plumbing Rule for Coffee Stands

By Spencer Pauley / The Center Square

Following public outcry against a rule requiring permanent installation of sanitation for food facilities, including coffee stands, the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services is revising the rule.

The rule update now clarifies that “the code change does not require the closure or modification of existing structures and that it does not preclude similar structures capable of meeting food safety and other local health jurisdiction requirements from being approved in the future “. According to an email sent out to business owners by the Snohomish Health District.

This overhaul means businesses with limited menus and minimal food preparation, such as coffee stands or hot dog carts, are exempt from installing permanent plumbing in their establishments pending a request and demonstration of proper food preparation.

“The code change requires applicants to apply to the local health department for a waiver to demonstrate how they satisfactorily meet requirements for safe water and food preparation without permanent plumbing,” WSDH said in its updated rule. “Current operators routinely provided this information during the application process.”

Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring tweeted the news regarding the rule change on June 15. He wrote, “Thanks to a lot of hard work and outreach by local business owners and concerned citizens, the state has refrained from requiring stands to install plumbing fixtures (costing tens of thousands of dollars). This is great news for our local businesses!”

However, some coffee stand business owners are skeptical that the problem is completely solved. Karissa Bresheare, owner of Gourmet Latte, spoke to The Center Square about how coffee stand owners shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

“That was great, that [Nehring] fought for us and definitely helped put our minds at ease, but it doesn’t seem 100% resolved, especially after getting the new email from [the Snohomish Department of Health]’ Bresheare said in an email. “I have a feeling they expect us to relax, but we can’t until we know we’re absolutely sure we don’t have to do anything else, including ‘just’ requesting a derogation.”

According to the WSDH, coffee stand operators typically have an agreement with a neighboring business to use their restrooms, use a separate kitchen for cleaning utensils, and have a sewage disposal service.

WSDH said it will work with partners to prepare guidance and support materials for affected food facilities to ensure they can maintain compliance with the code. The department also said it will prepare all application materials for local health authorities to use with future applicants and will provide ongoing training for partners.

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