HONOLULU (KHON2) — Health officials have been increasing their restaurant site inspections, leading to an uptick in violations.

It comes as restaurants continue to struggle to find workers.

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The state health department’s food safety branch said they did not increase the amount of field staff since the pandemic, but they no longer have to report to the office in the morning which has allowed the team to raise the minimum number of routine inspections required by inspectors to be done.

According to Peter Oshiro, the food safety branch manager, a few hundred more violations aren’t unusual; and it’s hard to say why violations are increasing.

He said in FY 20, there were 10,200 inspections conducted with 2,300 violations.

In FY 21, there were 14,200 inspections conducted and 2,100 violations.

In FY22, there were 15,680 inspections conducted, and 2,956 violations given.

The Food Safety Branch currently permits 10,327 food establishments statewide.

Oshiro said the two main reasons restaurants receive yellow violations are for personal hygiene and refrigerator temperature controls.

“Whether the employees aren’t washing their hands properly or there’s no soap or paper towels, which means they’re not properly washing their hands,” he said.

There has been an increase in foodborne illness complaints since 2020.

There were 13 complaints in 2020, 66 complaints in 2021 and 156 complaints in 2022.

Oshiro said during the pandemic, gastrointestinal illnesses nearly fell off the chart because people were going overboard with handwashing.”

“And that’s awesome for us from a health standpoint; and now, you’re seeing people revert and no one is wearing masks anymore. Nobody is washing their hands as often, and you see those numbers shooting right back up. So, that’s amazing data,” Oshiro said.

“And, that’s what we see in the field is people’s behavior. So, we need to get back to washing your hands, especially if you’re in the food industry and handling food.”

The Hawaii Restaurant Association said it’s working with the Department of Health on developing a list of the top things restaurants are cited for because the placards can be easily avoided.

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“[Restaurants can] make sure one person every shift is checking all those little things [soap, paper towels], and it will definitely keep your restaurant doors open so you can keep serving your customers,” Sheryl Matsuoka, Hawaii Restaurant Association executive director said.