DOH Food Safety Branch says placard program working but hand-washing still an issue

Local News

It appears the state Dept. of Health’s color-coded placard program is working, but even after three years since its launch, the number one problem is getting employees to wash their hands.  

The DOH told KHON2 some of those common problems are ones that are seen nationwide.

Although the current placard system is working as it should, we’re told other changes have been made to crack down on public health violations.

Since the placard program started back in 2014, there’s been more than 26,000 inspections at food establishments.

A green placard is issued when no more than one major violation is found and it’s corrected during the inspection.

A yellow placard is given there are two or more major violations or when a previous violation isn’t corrected.

A red placard is issued when an imminent health hazard is found.

“We’ve seen a marked decrease in the amount of violations since we started this in 2014,” Peter Oshiro, environmental health program manager for DOH, said.

DOH said when the program began, about 30 percent of the placards issued were yellow.

Fast forward a few years and that number is down to 16 percent.

Oshiro told us although the restaurant industry has improved over the years, the department still sees some of the same issues during inspections.

“The number one is going to be personal hygiene which means are employees washing their hands at the proper frequency and at the proper time and before they start work. The second thing is always temperature controls. Whether or not people’s refrigeration is proper, they’re cooking things to proper temperatures, are they holding foods at proper temperatures,” Oshiro said.

DOH recently changed its rules to require one staff member who is food safety certified to be on duty during all hours of operation.

Inspectors are also cracking down on illegal operations.

“The new rule allows us to post red ‘closed’ placards to any food establishments that’s operating without a valid permit so that’s something that’s very visible to the public just to let them know that if the food establishment does not have an active permit they should not be eating there,” Oshiro said.

In the past, the health department would issue a cease and desist order. But if owners refused to comply with that, there was nothing visible to alert customers.

If that happens now, owners can expect to pay up.

“After we’ve notified them that they’re operating illegally, if they continue to operate then we can fine them up to $1,000 for every sale they make after we’ve informed them that they have to close,” Oshiro said.

The health department told KHON2 complaints about food establishments without permits are usually reported by competitors.

DOH encourages the public to call them if you see anything of concern. Contact numbers for each island can be found at http://health.hawaii.gov/san/contact-us/.

You can also look at inspection reports for Oahu restaurants online at https://hi.healthinspections.us/hawaii/.

Inspection reports for neighbor islands will be listed at the same link later this year.

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