HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - What you see from the outside of the restaurant doesn't always tell the story even if you are paying top dollar just to get into an establishment.
The Ginza Night Club near Ala Moana had a sign out front that lists a $100 cover charge and $600 bottle service, but not everyone who makes it in is a high roller. A state food inspector wrote in her report that rodents were running overhead and she found cockroaches in cabinets.
Over at the Yamagen Restaurant in Mo'iliili the inspection report says the permit expired a year ago, food wasn't stored at proper temperatures and the inspector wrote, "Birds! Continually going in and out of establishment in kitchen and dining areas and landed on cooked potatoes"
An employee says the owner is in Japan until January and workers manage the place while he's away.
There are more than 5,800 places to eat on Oahu but only 10 health inspectors to check them all. Of the restaurants they do inspect 70 percent have violations. That's much higher than the rest of the country.
"It's not surprising at all," said Peter Oshiro, Department of Health, Sanitation Branch Supervisor. "Right now we're at almost one inspection almost every two years so we're not even close to where we're supposed to be and that's the result you're going to see in the field a lot of violations."
Last year in Chinatown rats were seen crawling all over produce in a market. Despite that discovery there still isn't a single inspector that checks the area on a regular basis.
"That was the main reason why we need more inspectors because if you're not going to inspect these places I don't think the public can expect that everything is going to take care of itself. So what you saw in Chinatown I think was a direct result of us not inspecting at a frequency enough to provide consistent compliance with our food safety rules," said Oshiro.
If you want to check the record of a place you eat the only way to do it is go down to the Health Department Ala Moana Boulevard office, get let in and go back to a row of file cabinets. Then you will have to go through each drawer, year by year, month by month, page by page. I did this. It's a slow process.
That could change. A new law was just passed to raise the food permit fee to $200 a year for the average size establishment. The money could be used to update the old system and put reports on the internet. They also would like to start some sort of placard system to post restaurants inspection results right at the entrance of each establishment.
"It's very easy to do if you're willing to commit the resources," said Oshiro.
They also want to hire more inspectors to go from 10 to 29 in order to prevent illness or image problems for the state.
"That's what scares me the most because we're a world class food destination the last thing I want to see even for my own family and ohana here is for them to contract some kind of illness that was absolute preventable," said Oshiro. "I think it puts us unnecessarily at risk that we are supposedly one of the world class cuisine spots in the world. And we should have a food safety program at least commensurate with that."
It's expected to be another year before the state will be able to raise the permit fees and then hire more inspectors. In that time the majority of restaurants on Oahu will not be inspected on a regular basis.