Maui News

Traditional Poi Preparation Protected Under New Law

June 24, 2011, 1:20 PM HST
* Updated June 24, 3:21 PM
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By Wendy Osher

Ke'anae kalo field. File photo.

Hand-pounded poi packaged for consumption was starting to get a bad wrap, until practitioners spoke up and lobbied for protection.

Despite the long history of preparing poi by hand, traditional practitioners faced potential fines under modern day rules for health and food safety.

On June 14, 2011, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law, exempting the preparation of hand-pounded poi from certain Department of Health requirements.

Now the manufacture and sale of poi, using a traditional pounding stone and wooden board is legal in the state where it has long been considered a staple food of the Hawaiian people.


Act 107 exempts producers of hand-pounded poi from having to prepare the poi in a certified food-processing establishment under certain conditions.  It also exempts them from obtaining a permit from the Department of Health.


Under the new law, the exemptions are valid if the producer: (1) Sells hand-pounded poi directly to consumers; (2) Prepares hand-pounded poi adjacent to permanent or temporary hand-washing facilities; and (3) Complies with rules adopted by the department to protect the health and safety of the public.

The practice of hand-pounding kalo (taro) into poi dates back centuries, with ancestors using the staple to sustain crews on pre-contact ocean voyages.

Pa’i ‘ai practitioners (those who produce hard pounded, undiluted poi) say the product is not only hyper-allergenic, but anti-bacterial, gluten free, and low in fat.

Packaged poi, photo by Wendy Osher.


The lead advocate and inspiration of the pa’i ‘ai bill, Daniel Anthony, will be on Maui July 1-2, 2011 for a ku’i ‘ai demonstration and workshop.  To participate, call (808) 285-3947 or email [email protected]

  • A talk story and ku’i ‘ai demonstration will be held Friday, July 1, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ma’akaka Lo’i, located in the Waihe’e Coastal Dune and Wetland Refuge.
  • The Ku’i ‘ai Workshop with hands-on instruction takes place Saturday, July 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Participants will learn how to ku’i and how the tradition can play a role in feeding and strengthening families physically, mentally and spiritually.

With the help of family members and friends, Anthony is part of a growing network of practitioners statewide assisting families to complete the circle, from growing kalo to filling the poi bowl.

The new bill that effectively legalizes hand-pounded poi requires the Department of Health to adopt the new rules no later than December 31, 2011.


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