HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New results from the first month of the state's color-coded inspection system show an improvement in the number of restaurants receiving a green "pass" placard. During the first week of the program, up to 70% of the establishments received a yellow sign which indicates two or more major violations. Now only 29% of the eateries inspected are issued a "conditional pass" placard, according to the Hawaii State Department of Health.
"It looks like the media exposure combined with the social pressure of putting the yellow placard out on the restaurant has had a very positive effect in getting establishments to self-police themselves," explained Peter Oshiro, environmental health program manager for the Department of Health.
My B.B.Q in downtown Honolulu had its yellow sign switched to green a day after making corrections. Workers said that most customers don't notice the placard.
"Too much work and nobody notice. If some of them notice then oh, make me happy, but not much," said Seulki Lee.
Inspectors have now checked 480 restaurants on Oahu. Health officials expect to reach all 6,000 eateries on the island in six months since they started with the facilities that require the most time-consuming visits. Oshiro said that there is enough staffing to ensure compliance, even though the current caseloads are higher than the FDA's recommendation of one inspector for every 150 food establishments.
"We're looking at 200. Our staff is very efficient so we feel that they can handle other duties which are swimming pools, tattoo shops that we also regulate, in addition to the food establishments," Oshiro said.
Food tour operators, who sometimes take customers to hole-in-the-wall spots, believe the new signs are helpful.
"Some places in Chinatown may not look the cleanest so it's definitely going to help reflect that the places I take my guests to in the Chinatown tour are definitely clean and sanitary," said Ryan Conching, owner of Aloha Food Tours.
"I hope everyone ups their game in the food business. There's a few people that need to," said Lanai Tabura, owner of Aloha Plate Food Tour.
Health officials are encouraged by the early results, but are waiting to see if the changes are part of a permanent trend.
Signs on the neighbor islands should start going up in September.