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Organizers baffled by food permit rules

Chefs say they don’t want to break the regional health department’s and state liquor board’s rules with their new dining events. It’s just that they don’t fit easily into the current regulations.

David Blaine says his Pop-Up Restaurant doesn’t qualify as a mobile food cart because he does not use a trailer or truck, and he can’t get a temporary food permit because it is not associated with an established event such as Hoopfest, Bloomsday or the like.

“Pop-Up is stuck in the no-man’s land in between,” he wrote on his website.

Blaine says he’s hopeful there can be changes to the system so that it will be easier for entrepreneurs to meet changing food trends, while still working within the system. He’s been working with the health department to try to find a permit solution for Pop-Up.

Chef Adam Hegsted says he encountered similar problems for his movable feast, called The Wandering Table.

He’s contacted the Washington State Liquor Control Board to get a permit for each dinner, but is considering the events a private party, like a supper club.

“We all pitch in to buy the food (a donation) and the money taken is used only to purchase the food and equipment for the dinner,” Hegsted says.

“If the health department had something more like the liquor board, it would probably be a little easier for me to comply with whatever license I needed,” he says. “And I am totally willing to do so.”

“I am a professional and at all times one of my major concerns is food safety. I believe that the other chefs, being professionals as well, have the same concerns. I believe the Health Department is more concerned with places they get complaints from, from people acting like nonprofessionals.”

Food for future Ghetto Gourmand dinners will be prepared in commercial kitchens and by those who have a catering license, says event organizer Amy Nathan.

Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie is licensed for offsite catering, according to health department records available on the agency’s website.

Jon Sherve, who is the technical adviser for the food program at the Spokane Regional Health District, says he can’t speak to specific dining events, but anytime food is being served to the public – whether it be at a fundraiser dinner or food cart – a permit is required.

The regulations are based on a statewide code that has a few differences, but it is generally the same from Spokane to Seattle.

“Food safety and public health is our number one priority,” Sherve says.

Regulators work to ensure that the operations have essentials such as enough water for hand washing and for cleaning necessary equipment to prevent contamination. They also require those serving meals to keep both hot and cold foods at safe temperatures to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Sherve recommended that anyone who has concerns about someone serving food to the public should ask to see an operating permit.

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