Because of COVID-19, we cannot fill our chapter house to normal capacity, making it cost-prohibitive to hire a chef or kitchen service. Is there anything we can do that will allow members to use the commercial kitchen? Could we do waivers or require them to have their own renters insurance?

In “normal times,” we strongly discourage allowing members or anyone other than trained staff use the commercial kitchen. We are concerned from a safety standpoint because there are so many opportunities for injury in any kitchen and particularly a commercial kitchen where the equipment can be even more difficult to operate without training. If members are preparing food for other residents, it also can create problems with Workers’ Compensation insurance – it can make it difficult to be able to determine if an injury occurred when the member was working or if it happened during time when she was just a resident.

That’s all of the risk management “stuff.” There isn’t anything specifically in the insurance policies that actually specify this however, so there aren’t any exclusions in the policies that would create coverage problems if you did ultimately decide that it is worth the liability that you might take on to allow members to access the commercial kitchen to prepare foods for themselves. This is an unusual year, and we understand that you will need to get creative in order to make things work. We would recommend that, if possible, you should still have some controls in place for the commercial kitchen – such as removing equipment that they could really do without, such as the commercial stand mixer, deli slicer or other items that wouldn’t be included in a residential kitchen, and locking the kitchen overnight if possible, especially if there is another corner that you could tuck a refrigerator and microwave. You’ll also need to impress upon the residents that it will be up to all of them to maintain safety in the kitchen, just like it will be up to all of them to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.

Does MJ have a stance on gas range versus electric stove for chapters with live-in members who utilize the kitchen to cook?

We typically discourage members from having access to kitchen equipment beyond just a toaster, microwave, coffee maker and refrigerator.  This is particularly important in houses that have commercial kitchens because the stoves, ovens, etc as well as other large equipment that can be tricky and unsafe to operate without special training.  While we understand that there are many members that live in smaller residential-type houses around the country that do have access to residential kitchen equipment,  we are concerned that there are risks associated with allowing members even that kind of equipment – burns, leaving the oven on and setting fire, etc. As with most things, it is up to each organization to determine if they are comfortable with the level of risk.

That all said, I would think that an electric range would be safer than a gas range because you avoid the chance of a gas leak or catching something on fire from the regular open flame.