HB1591 would give boost to small-scale food operators

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the House Committees on Health and Homelessness and Consumer Protection and Commerce on Feb. 13, 2024.

Feb. 13, 2024, 2:00 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 329 and Videoconference

To: House Committee on Health & Homelessness
      Rep. Della Au Belatti, Chair
      Rep. Jenna Takenouchi, Vice-Chair

      House Committee on Consumer Protection & Commerce
      Rep. Mark M. Nakashima, Chair
      Rep. Jackson D. Sayama, Vice-Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Aloha Chairs Belatti and Nakashima, Vice-Chairs and Committee Members,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its support for HB1591, which would allow Hawaii residents to open small-scale food operations via the creation of microenterprise kitchens.

The bill further provides that these microenterprise home kitchen operations (MEHKOs) would be subject to permit and inspection requirements administered by the state Department of Health.

If enacted, this bill would put Hawaii on the forefront of states that have legalized MEHKOs in order to advance food freedom and allow entrepreneurs to launch home cooking operations.

MEHKOs are a smart small-business response to the high entry costs of opening a restaurant or food truck. They are also adaptable, making them a viable solution for chefs and cooks looking to start a new part-time business.

MEHKOs may be especially beneficial to individuals who face financial or practical barriers that make it difficult to launch a food business. Polling from the COOK Alliance, which supports the expansion of MEHKOs in California, found that 84% of those participating in this informal food economy are women, while 36% have an annual household income under $45,000.[1]

Concerns over the safety of MEHKOs are addressed by the bill’s permitting requirements, which allow for Department of Health inspections and compliance with comprehensive food safety rules.

In addition, the bill limits MEHKOs to small-scale and low-risk cooking processes, such as same-day preparation and service; curtails on-site consumption of food; and bars sales to third-party retailers or wholesalers.

Finally, this bill deserves praise for not including an artificial cap on MEHKO sales, as under California law. Given the financial challenges of operating a business in Hawaii, taking a “light touch” approach to regulation of a budding MEHKO program is the best way to help the industry grow.

Encouraging the creation of small food enterprises through HB1591 would be good for the economy and good for Hawaii’s entrepreneurs.

The bill also would also further Hawaii’s goal of producing more food in the state and boosting its food sovereignty.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] “Understanding Microenterprise Home Kitchens,” COOK Alliance, 2020.


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