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Washington’s King County looking to bleed wineries even more

By Duane Pemberton

If you go into most winery tasting rooms around the country, it’s not at all uncommon to see them serving little bites of food – mostly crackers but some also serve cheeses and cured meats as well. I don’t know about you but I can’t think of any time in the history of going to tasting rooms where I’ve know anyone who has fallen prey to sickness do to consuming those bites of food. Additionally, when was the last time you knew of anyone who became ill after drinking from a winery tasting glass?

Now the King Country Health Department, under the guise of “public safety” (code for them seeking extra forms of revenue) are looking to crack down on wineries who serve any kind of food without permits. And to worsen the burden, they told wineries who don’t have a “commercial-grade dishwasher” that they either need to buy one, use a glass rental service who’d wash them for the winery or give the glasses away.

Here’s a recent staff report from the County (to see the entire report, click here (scroll to page 23):

Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee

Briefing No.: 2012-B0087 Date: May 22, 2012

Invited: Mark Rowe, Food Protection & Living Environment Section Manager Chrissy Russillo, Interim Chief of Staff, Public Health-Seattle & King County

SUBJECT

This briefing provides an update on Public Health’s efforts to work with the wine and distillery tasting room industry to ensure compliance with state and local food code requirements (Food Code).1

BACKGROUND

For a number of years, the winery and distillery industry has been growing and expanding around the state. A 2010 article written by the Washington state Department of Health, at the request of the Washington State Wine Commission, reported on the increasing trend of food service in these facilities. Generally, wineries, distilleries and tasting rooms that serve food and re-use glassware require (1) plan review to ensure food is prepared, stored and served safely and (2) some level of food establishment permit. The intent of these requirements is to protect the health of the public by reducing the risk of contracting a food-borne illness.

Based on rough estimates, approximately 150 to 200 wineries, distilleries and tasting rooms currently operate in King County. In late 2011, Public Health food program staff surveyed 33 winery and distillery tasting rooms in the Woodinville area. Public Health staff intended to determine, based on the food service provided, if these businesses required food establishment permits. The winery and distillery industries have never been required to comply with the Food Code in the past, so this effort generated significant confusion.

Public Health has held three meetings with a small group of industry representatives to obtain a better understanding of the range of operations.

1 All local health jurisdictions in the state operate under the same food code.
2 Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Chapter 246-215 and King County Board of Health Code Title 5

ANALYSIS

Food Code Requirements

Winery and distillery tasting rooms that reuse glassware and serve food must have access to approved ware-washing facilities, restrooms within 200 feet and an easily accessible hand-sink within 25 feet of the service area.3 (The Food Code exempts some foods, such as ready-to-eat foods that are served in single-use portions in their original packaging, such as single-serving pretzels or crackers.)

Following discussions with industry representatives, Public Health has identified several categories for classifying tasting room operations.

Option 1: Exempt from the Food Code, So No Permit Required. Tasting rooms that only serve wine or spirits into single-service glasses (i.e., disposable cups or glassware that is given away to customers) will not need to obtain a permit or meet the Food Code’s ware-washing facility, restroom, and hand-sink requirements.

Tasting rooms in this category may also serve exempt food items.

  • No fee required

Option 2: No Permit Required, But Must Follow Food Code. Tasting rooms that reuse glassware, but otherwise have a very restricted menu (i.e., serve only exempt food items), may request a variance from the Food Code so they can be exempted from the permit requirement. These tasting rooms must still have access to approved ware-washing facilities, restrooms within 200 feet and an easily accessible hand-sink within 25 feet of the service area.

  • $154 one-time variance fee

Option 3: Must Follow Food Code and Obtain Permit. This option is divided into three risk categories. All must meet the food code requirements discussed above and obtain a permit.

Risk Level 1: This risk level is assigned to tasting rooms that reuse glassware and offer commercially packaged single-serving portions of cheese, or espresso and/or certain other foods. These tasting rooms will be inspected once a year.

  • $804 one-time plan review fee
  • $350-$390 annual permit fee

Risk Level 2: This risk level is assigned to tasting rooms that receive, store, prepare, cold hold, and serve potentially hazardous foods (i.e., foods that require temperature control because they can support the growth of botulism, salmonella, or other infectious microorganisms). This category will cover foods requiring limited preparation, such as sandwiches or grilled sandwiches, as well as pre-sliced cheese and deli meats. These tasting rooms will receive one routine inspection and one educational visit each year.

  • $804 one-time plan review fee
  • $583-$639 annual permit fee

Risk Level 3: This risk level is assigned to tasting rooms with complex food preparation steps, including thawing, cutting, cooking, cooling, cold holding, reheating, hot holding, etc., and serving of potentially hazardous foods. These tasting rooms will receive two routine inspections and one educational visit each year.

  • $804 one-time plan review fee
  • $808-$1,009 annual permit fee

Other Jurisdictions

Public Health has contacted several jurisdictions: Walla Walla, Klickitat, Pierce and Yakima counties. Klickitat, Pierce, and Yakima counties have borrowed some or all of their approach from Walla Walla County. Walla Walla County’s approach also calls for a scaled permit structure based on the level of risk. The health department estimates that over 300 facilities are permitted in Walla Walla County.

Walla Walla County’s permit structure is as follows:

Category 1: Tasting & commercial kitchen. Winery that offers tasting to the public year-round with a kitchen facility that qualifies as a commercial kitchen.

  • $510 annual fee

Category 2: Tasting & limited kitchen. Winery that offers tasting to the public year-round with limited kitchen facilities that allow preparation of simple items like hors d’oeuvres.

  • $430 annual fee

Category 3: Tasting & no kitchen. Winery that offers tasting to the public yearround but with no kitchen facilities.

  • $325 annual fee

Winery Hosting Facility. Common kitchen and/or dishwashing facilities for small winery tasting rooms to share.

  • $430 annual fee

As one should be able to clearly see, this proposal is nothing more than a new form of taxation on these wineries – most of whom are very small businesses – and have no proven ability to keep anyone safe.

There’s no factual data anywhere in the document that points to any cases of anyone ever getting sick from a tasting room. What’s also disturbing is the trend something like this could create for wineries in every state of the country.

I’d encourage you to write the King County Council members and ask them to reconsider these ludicrous ideas.

Here’s a link where you can:

http://www.kingcounty.gov/council/councilmembers.aspx



  • Smith

    I find it interesting that the taxes and fees the wineries pay monthly, quarterly, annually that goes into the state “general fund” which pays the salaries, benefits, free healthcare, pensions of these workers.  They then turn around and charge the wineries $201 per hour for the opportunity to levy more restrictions and fees!  Unbelievable!