Coffee stands won’t close due to plumbing rule

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Coffee stands without plumbing can continue to operate under zero risk of closure, the state health department told the Tribune, and this allowance hasn’t been deleted.
The coffee industry erupted after receiving an email this month from the local Snohomish Health District asserting that a state administrative code change that goes into effect in September gives “no exemption for permanent plumbing in the Food Safety Code,” an assistant director of environmental health wrote. It would affect 91 stands.
It appears this was incorrect.
“The code did not change (in a way) which will affect operations,” said Susan Shelton, the public health adviser for the state Department of Health food safety program, in an interview.
A clarification letter by the Department of Health explicitly outlines that “the code change does not necessitate closure or modification of the structures currently in compliance.” The Health District sent an update email to coffee stand owners June 15.
The line removed from the code which allowed operating without permanent plumbing was only a duplicate, Shelton said. The same allowance is still in the code elsewhere.
Local health departments and jurisdictions can add more restrictions on top. Cities could require indoor plumbing at all new coffee stands within city limits, for example, Shelton said. The City of Snohomish is one that does.
“We’re strong believers in local control,” Shelton said.
Stands have been able to work without plumbing for 40 years now, said Dave Stewart, who founded and runs Vista Clara Coffee of Snohomish.
He’s following this closely as Vista Clara is among a handful of coffee suppliers to stands; Bargreen’s, of Everett, is another.
Stewart has set up and run 15 stands in his lifetime.
Here’s how they work:
When stands aren’t connected to plumbing, they tote in water.
In the rules, these self-contained coffee stands are required to make arrangements with nearby restaurants, gas stations or kitchens to fill up their water. The fresh water is often put into metal tanks at the stand.
Pressurized water is used at the sinks. The stands have hot water tanks, too.
The wastewater generated by hand-washing and other activities is toted away to be poured down commercial sinks.
It’s not unlike the self-contained plumbing on a travel trailer, except a stand’s wastewater is removed multiple times a day, Stewart said.
Access to a toilet within 200 feet of the stand is a requirement which typically is built into the arrangement, Shelton said. Local health authorities can give variances for way-out places, Shelton said.
These variances will never be taken away, Shelton said.
The state Department of Health is developing and will issue a formal guidance for local health jurisdictions.
The guidelines hadn’t been laid out in writing before, Shelton said.
The state administrative code change was made in March and comes into effect in September. The state’s written update from June 15 says it was done in part because differing jurisdictions do not approve or accept applications for buildings without permanent plumbing, which created “an inconsistent approach across the state.” It was also brought up that stationary structures differ from mobile vendors.
The June 6 message implying permanent plumbing would be required gave the coffee industry a shockwave of jitters. A Seattle TV news station’s report June 8 amplified concerns.
Independent stand owners put their livelihood into creating small businesses. Installing permanent plumbing doesn’t come cheap, and people came to believe it would be mandatory.
A petition responding to these perceived risks generated more than 6,000 signatures. County Councilman Nate Nehring arranged a meeting last week with 20 coffee industry representatives, and had a conversation around the middle of last week with the Snohomish Health District’s administrator Shawn Frederick. In that conversation, Nehring said he was told the state was walking back the code after public outcry.
Nehring got involved after hearing from concerned constituents, he said.
“I asked the Health District to send a new letter explaining in writing” the latest information about the issue, Nehring said, which came out June 15.
Food trucks fall under a different system and are not affected, said Lori Johnson, the director of the Washington Food Truck Association.
The first self-contained coffee stand, The Monorail in Seattle, came around 1980, Stewart said, “when everybody thought espresso would be a fad.” Snohomish County got its first in 1988, he said.