Province promises food banks can now serve meals — but Calgary Food Bank CEO says that's not exactly new

The province says it's going to allow food banks to "legally" cook and dish up meals on its premises. But there's just one thing — the Calgary Food Bank says it's already been doing so.

'I'm not seeing a direct correlation to the needs of food banks'

James McAra, the CEO of the Calgary Food Bank, says the organization has served cooked meals on several occasions. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

The province says it's going to allow food banks to "legally" cook and dish up food on its premises.

The announcement on Thursday promises food banks will be able to serve clients better by removing legislation that previously didn't allow them to legally prepare, cook and serve food on site, provided they have the necessary facilities and equipment. It would benefit food banks hoping to duel as soup kitchens, the government says.

"This is a common-sense change that I'm proud to make. Food safety regulations should not prevent food banks from helping those in need," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a release.

"We will continue looking for ways to cut unnecessary rules and regulations while always protecting the health and safety of Albertans."

But there's just one thing, says James McAra, CEO of the Calgary Food Bank.

While the Calgary Food Bank does not currently process food in house, it never had issues in the past serving up cooked meals before, McAra said.

He said the bureaucratic barriers the government is promising to remove aren't really new — not for the organization at least, which has already been serving up cooked meals on several occasions.

"There's a question as to what is actually being freed up," McAra said.

"There was never a restriction, to our knowledge, in the ability to prepare food. We just had to make sure that we had the proper facility, we had it inspected, we had the proper equipment and away we go."

McAra said the requirements to serve prepared food at the food bank are comparable to serving up "tea and biscuits" after church or hosting meals for a local community group.

The release also says bed and breakfasts will now be able to serve their guests meals at any time of the day, effective Feb. 1.

The same goes with guest ranches and other similar small businesses, which will be able to operate under the same requirements.

"I'm sure that this [release] addresses somebody's needs," McAra said. "[But] I'm not seeing a direct correlation to the needs of food banks."

The announcement is one of a flurry of news releases sent by the Alberta government this week in what they have referred to as Red Tape Reduction Awareness Week.

This article was updated from a previous version to clarify that the regulations the province is planning to remove could help food banks hoping to also act as a soup kitchen.

With files from Dave Will