Washington backs off controversial plumbing rule for coffee stands

State officials blinked after a public outcry.
A cup of coffee

June 15, 2022 8:39pm

Updated: June 15, 2022 10:32pm

After public outcry against a rule that required permanent plumbing for food establishments, including coffee stands, the Washington State Department of Health is revising that rule.

The update to the rule now clarifies that “the code change does not require closure or modification of existing structures and that it does not preclude similar structures that are able to meet food safety and other local health jurisdictional requirements from being approved in the future,” according to an email from the Snohomish Health District sent out to business owners.

What this revision means is that businesses with limited menus and requiring minimal food preparation, such as coffee stands or hot dog carts, are exempt from installing permanent plumbing into their businesses, pending an application and demonstration of proper food preparation.

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

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring tweeted out the news regarding the rule change on June 15. He wrote, “thanks to lots of hard work & public outreach from local business owners & concerned citizens, the State has backed off on requiring stands to install plumbing (costing tens of thousands of dollars). This is great news for our local businesses!”

But some coffee stand business owners are skeptical the problem is completely solved. Karissa Bresheare, the 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] went to bat for us and definitely helped calm us down but it doesn't appear to be 100% resolved, especially after getting the new email from [the Snohomish Department of Health],” Bresheare said in an email. “I have a feeling they are expecting us to relax but we can't until we know we are completely safe from having to do anything else, including ‘just’ applying for a variance.”

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

WSDH said it will be working with partners to prepare guidance and support materials to affected food establishments to ensure they can maintain code compliance. The department also said it will prepare any application materials for local health authorities to use with future applicants and provide continued education to partners.