KAHALUU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After seven years, the state Health Department has resumed inspections of food vendors on nights and weekends.
"The state has not had money to allow our staff to go out on overtime on weekends and after hours," said Peter Oshiro of the health department's sanitation branch. "So anecdotally, we kind heard that the illegal food vending businesses have flourished over the past couple of years."
The DOH recently had funding increased to allow for weekend and nighttime inspections. So on Saturday, lead inspector Mike Okamura visited vendors near the Hygienic Store in Kahaluu, including the Holo Holo Stop truck, known for its lau lau. The truck had a posted permit, but it expired last July. Owner George Halas, Jr., said his wife handles the paperwork for the truck, which is parked near the store on Saturdays and Sundays.
"I did talk to his wife, who said they're in the process of getting another permit because they're changing the kitchen at which they're working out of," said Okamura after getting off the phone.
However, the bottom line was that the truck didn't have a valid permit. "So I will be issuing them a cease and desist, so they cannot operate until such time they can get a new permit," said Okamura. Halas, who declined an on-camera interview, said he would do so on Tuesday, after the Presidents Day holiday.
Okamura then headed to a yellow food truck parked on the other side of the Hygienic Store. This one had banners advertising the grand opening of Hawaiian Country Style Meals. But there was no permit in the truck. Okamura was put in touch by phone with the owner, who said he was operating under a temporary food sale permit.
"The temporary food sale permit which he alleges he's under currently is with his wife, who's at another site. I told him that the requirement is that it be here," said Okamura, who then checked his computer. He didn't find such a permit, and issued another cease and desist order, closing the food truck.
According to Oshiro, there are about 6,000 food establishments and 350 mobile food vendors on Oahu, with just 24 inspectors available. Funding is being increased so that there will be 30 inspectors this year, with a goal of 40 inspectors.
He also said its important for food vendors to have the proper permit because otherwise, there's an increased risk that unsafe food handling practices will make people sick.
"It's not something where we should be waiting for people to start getting ill and ending up in the hospital," he said.