DOH closes charity serving meals, cites safety violations

HONOLULU — The Department of Health has ordered the immediate closure of a charity serving thousands of meals to needy people because of food safety violations.

Malama Meals served meals to seniors, the homeless and others considered at risk since the outbreak of the coronavirus, KGMB-TV reported Monday.

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The health department issued a cease and desist order Friday to Ahman Ramadan, which was doing business as Malama Meals and Da Spot Health Foods & Juices serving meals on Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

The department inspected the organization’s kitchen following a complaint by a volunteer about alleged lack of hygiene and improper food temperatures.

Malama Meals served 350,000 meals across more than 100 locations during the pandemic, the organization said.

The meals were made at a University of Hawaii West Oahu campus kitchen.

The health department cited six food safety violations, including improper hand washing and failure to monitor poultry cooking temperatures.

Possible fines could reach $6,000, the department said.

“They are actually putting people at risk,” said Peter Oshiro, the health department’s environmental health program manager.

Da Spot restaurant in Honolulu has not been closed, Oshiro said.

The most alarming violation was that meals sent to neighboring islands were not kept at proper temperatures. The department was especially concerned Malama Meals was delivering meals to people who may have difficulty fighting an illness contracted from food, Oshiro said.

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

Ramadan said he would correct the violations and improve volunteer training with the intention of reopening Malama Meals.

“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,” Ramadan said in a statement.

Oshiro disputed the claim, noting the health department has only conducted virtual inspections for new restaurant openings since March 17.

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Malama Meals said it partners with the city of Honolulu, but the Department of Community Services said there is no city involvement with the charity.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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