Public hearings are expected around December for the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH)’s new placard program. The DOH is also instituting an online electronic inspection system that the public will be able to access. Starting soon, DOH inspectors will take an electronic tablet with them on inspections, which will allow them to update restaurant inspection records in real time.
“Hopefully, we will have the new code signed into law by early next year,” says Peter Oshiro, DOH Environmental Health Sanitation Branch Manager. “Maui has three inspectors in the field and that’s expected to go up. The electronic system will update in real time as inspectors are in the field. We have started entering the inspections in real time this month in Oahu, so after we get the data in the system and test it we will be able to release the website to the public.”
Put simply, the new system awards a color-coded card that would sit in an establishment’s window. Green means the restaurant has passed, yellow indicates violations that need correction and red means that the establishment has been shut down until corrections are finished. Oshiro says new inspectors will be hired to keep up with the inspections. Right now, a shortage of inspectors means that inspectors check out restaurants only about once every two and a half years. Oshiro says his office’s goal is to inspect establishments three times a year.
Of course, all these new inspectors and inspections will come at a cost. The new code will institute substantially higher fees for permits. Currently, permits run $25 to $150, but that will increase to the $100-600 range, depending on an establishment’s size and operations.
“Right now Maui is still running on Chapter 12 code, but hopefully Chapter 50 will be adopted by the end of the year,” says Patty Kitkowski, Program Director for Maui’s Environmental Health department. “The new code adopts a lot of things from the Federal Drug Administration’s food code. We don’t have our slates [tablets] yet, and they are testing the system in Oahu before they bring it to Maui. I have two inspectors on Maui and one on Molokai right now.”
Kitkowski says she will eventually hire four more inspectors for her department, bringing the total to seven. When the new code gets signed into law, Oshiro says the priority for inspections will be to reinspect within 24 hours after a yellow card is put up so restaurants can get cleared to green. He says routine inspections will be a second priority.
Reaction from Maui restaurant owners to the new inspection plan seems, at least for now, to be positive.
“I think it’s great because it keeps everyone honest,” says Mark Ellman, the chef and owner of Mala Ocean Tavern, Honu and Mala Wailea. “You get an opinion of a safety professional to help you run a safer kitchen.”
Rolf Egli, owner of Maui Swiss Cafe in Lahaina, agrees.
“It’s about time!” he says. “I think this is just a great idea. In my view there are still to many restaurants around where it is a good thing that you don’t see in the kitchen. I believe customers should have the right to know how clean a kitchen is. For me that is always number one priority and I am proud about our clean kitchen. So I’m looking forward to this new system and that our guests can see how clean everything is.”
You can see a summary of the proposed rules and how it could affect restaurants at the TOBE Co. Food Safety website. The company conducts food safety training and can be hired to inspect a restaurant’s kitchen as well. They have a complete copy of the code on their website at tobecofoodsafety.com.
Chris Speere, the External Program Coordinator at the Maui Culinary Academy, says this is a positive change for the island and that the school will properly prepare students for the change.
“At the Maui Culinary Academy, our faculty is extremely motivated and tasked to instill the highest standards of food handling, safety and sanitation practices into our students daily practices, says Speere. “Our culinary students are directed to meet nationally recognized standards in Food Safety through a proctored ServSafe certification process that is embedded into our programs mandatory Sanitation and Safety course. It is in the Maui Culinary Academy’s best interest along with our entire restaurant industry to protect our dinning public and our islands exemplary reputation as a leading destination for for sourcing and serving world class cuisine that is not only innovative and flavorful but also safe, healthy and wholesome.”