Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.
The Rev. Keary Kincannon's Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church will open its hypothermia shelter Friday under the new enforcement policy. The Rev. Keary Kincannon's Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church will open its hypothermia shelter Friday under the new enforcement policy.
They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.
But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.
I experienced something similar to this scenario at a hotel I worked in Virginia. This was a large property that did as many as several thousand meals a day, sometimes we would throw away as much as several hundred pounds of food a day. It bothered me to see all that food going into a garbage can.
So I approached the chef and asked if he would mind of I tried to find some way to take the excess food and give it to homeless shelters. He thought it was a great idea and possibly good PR for the hotel and said go for it.
I made some calls only to quickly bump my nose against the virtually endless lists of rules and regulations surrounding these sorts of endeavors. It had to be individually packaged, or we had to deliver it to them, or it couldn't be reheated. Finally I gave up, realizing that essentially the only way the hotel could do this would be to hire a full time staff member to handle just the food giveaways, since that wasn't going to happen, the food continued being thrown away.
In my situation the blame was about 50/50 between the government and the charities themselves but ultimately they lost not only our possible donations but also those of some other hotels and resorts I contacted to see if they were interested.
The "rules" made it so difficult there was simply no way a business could accommodate them and make it worthwhile to do so to their bottom line. Seems to me there must be some sort of common sense approach that wouldn't invalidate those who would like to help. Then again it seems that bureaucracies of any size usually love rules more than helping people, though that may be my innate cynicism talking here.
Here are my common sense suggestions as a guy with thirty years in a professional kitchen.
1.) Train the people. No matter how "up to code" a kitchen may be, folks without proper safety training can still make you plenty sick, no matter how nice the three well commercial sink may be.
2.) Instead of demanding churches install a "code" kitchen, teach them how to use what they have safely. There's no reason you can't cook a safe meal at home of you know what your doing. (an average kitchen install with used equipment runs about 10G, which I presume is a lot of dough to the average church.)
3.) Partner with a local cooking school to do safety and sanitation classes for those who will be preparing the food.
You'll note I'm talking exclusively about education here, the reason for that is I've done jobs in churches and I was typically appalled at the low level of sanitation and food knowledge I found amongst the kitchen workers. Dealing with large quantity cooking is different than cooking at home, there are different rules for doing things in larger volume, that's what I'd focus on myself. But then again, I'm not a bureaucrat!
I'll wager the homeless folks would be willing to take a chance on Mrs. Maples Chuck Roast rather than have to dumpster dive. These folks need to eat, why not find a solution that makes that more likely to happen, rather than less?
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