Behind the Counter Part 1: Critical violations found at food establishments

Ron Loo
Ron Loo
Loo conveys customer complaints to restaurant employees
Loo conveys customer complaints to restaurant employees
Fish left out in the open
Fish left out in the open
Loo checks the temperature in a food tray
Loo checks the temperature in a food tray
Dead insects found in a food preparation area
Dead insects found in a food preparation area

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Millions of meals are served every year on Oahu but there are only 10 inspectors making sure health guidelines are followed which means there are plenty of violations out there that aren't being found.

Everything from lunch wagons to five star restaurants are supposed to be inspected and we got a firsthand look at the violations that are behind the counter.

"I'm from the Health Department. I came back to do a follow up inspection," said Ron Loo, State Department of Health Sanitarian.

Our first stop is a place a lot of people go, the Aiea McDonalds.  When Loo came here the last time he found critical violations.  The restaurant was using double the amount of chemicals to clean its equipment.

"So with that high of a concentration we're looking at a possibility of someone getting chemical poisoning if concentrations are too high," said Loo.

On this return visit Loo says McDonald's is still using the high concentration of chemicals.

"Not having the proper sanitizing solution at the proper level is considered a critical violation," said Loo.

"So I'll be back in a couple of days," Loo told the McDonald's manager.

Our next stop is the Webco employee cafeteria in Mapunapuna, which is open to the public.

"Hi, Health Department, we had a complaint about over here. Somebody said they ate over here and they got sick and had to go to the emergency room," Loo told the Webco Cafeteria manager.

Two separate people said they got sick and went to the emergency after eating the mahi mahi here.

"We're looking at possible scombroid intoxication. The problem with scombroid (a foodborne illness that results from eating spoiled fish) is that it's not necessarily the restaurant mishandling the food. It can go all the way back to the fishing boat," explained Loo.

Their menu rotates so they aren't serving mahi today but they do have salmon and other specialties.  Ron checks it out and finds a problem with food temperature.

"The beef stew that I checked in the hot holding units was at 113 degrees but we require it to be at 140 degrees or above," said Loo.

The hot food was too cool and the macaroni salad was kept too warm.  It must be at 45 degrees or below.  Holding food at the wrong temperature can make people sick, although it didn't seem to bother some of the regulars.

"The best," said a customer eating a burger.

We moved on to a lunch wagon, the Blue Water Shrimp and Seafood truck at the Salt Lake Shopping Center.

"We had a complaint against your wagon yeah," Loo told the employees.

The complaint was that they were dumping waste water into the nearby plants.

"With them pumping the waste water out like that there is an environmental concern as well as concerns about vermin that could be attracted," said Loo.

Interesting since the trucks owner is listed as Future Environmental Solutions.  Loo says their permit expired six months ago and the owner told him he does not return to the commissary everyday like he's required to do.

"Like any other restaurant you have restaurants that are better than others at following the rules and same thing with lunch wagons.  You have lunch wagons that follow the rules to the tee and sometimes they skirt around the rules or try to get around the rules," said Loo.

Food inspectors check any place that has food including school cafeterias.  Last spring McKinley High School had a rat problem.  The rodent was gnawing on the oven wiring and leaving feces behind.  They've since caught the rat and added more coverings around the doors to help prevent new rodents from getting in.  They've also caught plenty of bugs on their sticky paper and surprisingly we found socks hanging on a rack that holds food which leaves a bad impression.

"Especially in a school food services environment where you're serving kids and the children," said Loo.

The employee that left the socks got written up by the cafeteria manager.

We found plenty of surprises when searching the inspection reports.  The Ginza Night Club had rodents running overhead and cockroaches in cabinets.

The Yamagen Restaurant on South King Street had several violations including birds landing on cooked food in the kitchen.  It's enough to kill your appetite.

In part two of our story we'll tell you about the new law that inspectors hope will give them the tools to meet national standards and what you need to do if you wanted to look up a report on a restaurant.

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