Citing concerns about food prep, state shuts down charity that was serving free meals

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 4:59 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - City food safety violations, the state has ordered a charity that served hundreds of thousands of meals to needy people around the state to shut down immediately.

Malama Meals started serving meals to kupuna, the homeless and others considered at risk during the pandemic.

The state Health Department inspected the organization’s kitchen after a complaint by one of Malama Meals’ own volunteers over lack of hygiene and improper food temperatures.

Malama Meals says it served 350,000 meals during the pandemic across more than 100 locations including Oahu, Kauai and Molokai. The meals were made at a UH West Oahu kitchen.

But on Friday, the heath department issued a cease and desist order to Ahman Ramadan doing business as Malama Meals and Da Spot restaurant.

It cited six food safety violations, including “employees not monitoring cooking food temperatures of poultry” and “improper hand washing by employees.” DOH said possible fines could go up to $6,000

“They are actually putting people at risk,” said Peter Oshiro, DOH’s environmental health program manager, who noted Da Spot is not shut down.

He says the most egregious violation against Malama Meals was the meals sent to the neighbor islands were not at proper temperatures.

“We were especially concerned that the business model for Malama Meals was to get meals to the disenfranchised and people that really might not have the most optimal health conditions and would have the most difficult time fighting off a food-borne illness infection,” said Oshiro.

“Especially during this pandemic crisis, the last thing we need is a foodborne outbreak,” he said.

Ramadan told Hawaii News Now Monday he’d correct the violations, step up training of the volunteers and hopes to reopen Malama Meals soon.

“I was very surprised to see this cease and desist order from DOH as our kitchen has passed multiple inspections over the last several weeks,” he said, in a statement.

Oshiro says he doesn't know what Ramadan is talking about since the health department has made only virtual inspections for new restaurant openings since March 17.

Meanwhile, volunteers on the neighbor islands are heartbroken.

“I was hurt. I literally cried. I cried right there at the airport,” said Melissa Moody, Malama Meals volunteer for Kauai site.

Malama Meals has a GoFundMe page seeking $1 million for local food relief. So far, the page has raised $53,000.

The organization says it partners with the city and Aloha Ventures.

But the city disputed any link to the charity. “The Department of Community Services does not coordinate Malama Meals and is not involved in any part of the Malama Meals operation and was thus unaware of any compliance issues,” said the city’s Department of Community Services, in a statement.

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