New color-coded food safety system starting soon

Published: Jun. 28, 2014 at 12:37 AM HST
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KALIHI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Customers will soon be able to find out if their favorite restaurant makes the grade or has a dirty secret. The state's food safety rating system is almost ready. Health inspectors are dishing out new rules to all food establishments, from fine dining restaurants to convenience stores.

Pancakes & Waffles in Kalihi attracts customers with its homestyle cooking. Restaurant owner Jason Sung welcomes the changes to keep people from getting sick.

"I am pleased that they're placing some kind of grading system in Hawaii," said Sung.

Health department inspectors are visiting more than 10,000 food establishments statewide to educate owners about the color-coded grading system. Green ("Pass") means one major violation or less that is corrected during the inspection. Yellow ("Conditional Pass") indicates two or more major violations and requires a follow-up visit. Red ("Closed") signals an imminent health hazard.

"If we looked at our data currently, probably 60% to 70% of our routine inspections of high-risk facilities would result in a yellow placard," said Peter Oshiro, manager for the Department of Health's Environmental Health Program. "So this is something where the numbers are way too high and they need to come down."

At Duke's Waikiki, the 330 employees are gearing up for the new regulations.

"It's a challenge and I don't think it's going to be easy, but it is definitely something that we can all do. We just gotta put the effort into it," said general manager Dylan Ching.

The health department investigates 100 to 200 food-borne illnesses each year. High-risk establishments will be inspected first.

"Our high-risk people are the ones that do a lot of raw foods all the way up to serving it up to your plate. Your medium-risk establishments would be like our fast-food establishments," explained Oshiro.

The health department expects to start issuing placards in late July. Eateries hope the new transparency isn't bad for business.

"It might not be able to be corrected at that time, but if it's something simple that can be corrected in a couple of days, you're still going to get that yellow card on your window and it does look kind of bad," said Sung.

The Department of Health suffered from a staffing shortage a few years ago, but the number of inspectors statewide has risen from 24 to 40. A fee hike that is part of the changes is funding additional positions.

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