Back in 2010 the Produce Safety Project report showed that Hawaii was leading the nation in foodborne illness related costs, at an average of 710 million dollars each year, have we really seen any change since then?
Sugar and pineapple production pulled out of Hawaii a few years ago and now the state relies almost exclusively on tourism for its economy. Each year it is estimated that about 7 Million tourist visit the state of Hawaii each year spending over 10 billion dollars while they are here.
So, since tourism is clearly so important to the state’s economic health, what has been done to make their stay safer with regards to the food they eat while they are here?
Not a single piece of new food safety legislation has been passed, or a single new food safety regulation imposed on the over 9,800 food establishments in the state (over 6,000 on Oahu alone). Food safety and the economic impact of foodborne illness is clearly not a priority for the Hawaii Department of Health or for our elected officials.
Routine food safety and sanitation inspections of food establishments are not being performed by the Department of Health as they are required to do. Every single food establishment in the state is required to be inspected at least twice each year, and more often if violations are found, yet I know of several that have not been inspected one time in over a year.
My own food truck has not been inspected by the Department of Health a single time since we received our permit to operate back in November of 2010. Thats two full years without a single inspection from the Department of Health. And what makes it better, a few weeks ago I received a permit renewal notice in the mail from them. All we have to do is fill it out, and send them our renewal fee and they will mail us our permit for another two years, again with no inspection. Clearly they are more concerned with receiving permit fees than conducting sanitation inspections.
Back in November of last year I received a copy of the Chapter 50 draft, the proposed new Food Safety Code, and in the past year nothing has happened with it. It has stayed in its same “draft” state, stalled for over a year. The Department of Health does not need legislature approval to go forward with the proposed changes in Chapter 50. However the proposed changes must first undergo a public commenting period before being taken to Governor Abercrombie for approval. We have been waiting a year for the public commenting period to even be scheduled. As of today, there is still not a word about the proposed changes in Chapter 50 scheduled for public comment.
I have owned food establishments across the country, and this is the first state that I have ever lived in or operated a food establishment in that food safety is not considered a high priority. It is ridiculous how flippantly food safety is regarded here. I have approached several of our elected officials in the past regarding new food safety legislation, and they all seem very concerned, while you are there with them. Once you leave their office, nothing happens.
Admittedly, the Department of Health is seriously understaffed, over the past few years they have gone from 22 food safety inspectors down to a mere 9 inspectors for the entire state. Federal guidelines recommend one inspector for every 150 food establishments, yet currently Hawaii has only 9 food safety inspectors, which comes out to over 1,000 food establishments per inspector. Having only 9 food safety inspectors expected to inspect over 9,000 food establishments twice each year is a joke, and by the way, those same 9 inspectors are also tasked with inspecting every swimming pool, massage parlor, and tattoo parlor in the state.
In 2011 the Hawaii Department of Health conducted a total of 9,284 inspections, during which they uncovered 3,938 major health code violations at food establishments. During that same time there were over 1,700 reported cases if foodborne illness in Hawaii, with many more cases likely going unreported.
This staffing debacle falls squarely on the state’s elected officials. The people that we have elected to represent us. The Department of Health can’t hire more staff until the state gives them more funding to hire the staff with, yet the state says they can’t give them more funding.
King & University
The State of Hawaii can’t afford to hire additional food safety inspectors to keep the public and our tourist safe, yet the City & County of Honolulu can afford to spend billions of dollars on an elevated train that no one will ever ride and that will be a blight on our scenic island.
It has already been shown that the elevated rail system will not alleviate our traffic congestion problems.
Ridership of the train will not be enough to even make it cost effective and sustainable. Lets face it, how are they believing that thousands of us will suddenly decide to give up our cars and ride a train that doesn’t go where we need to go in the first place? What happens when we get there? We have to take a bus, cab, or walk to where we are going. Thats not going to happen.
Honolulu tried the same thing already with The Boat which did not last very long at all and was closed down because ridership did not improve to their projections. While The Boat was in service most people did not notice any noticeable difference to the traffic congestion. There simply was not enough people on The Boat to make a difference, and the train will be the same way.
Why doesn’t the City & County of Honolulu do what other areas have done, start a county-wide department with food safety inspectors to inspect all food establishments operating within the county?
That will ease the burden from the state and make sure that the majority of the food establishments are inspected like they are supposed to be. Spend millions to keep the public safe, not create an eye-sore of a train and create a financial burden for our future generations.
By creating a Honolulu Department of Health to handle food safety inspections of food establishments on Oahu, that will only leave a little over 3,000 food establishments that the Hawaii Department of Health would have to inspect. Much more manageable than the current over 9,000 food establishment undertaking.
Waipahu – Before and After
Until recently the Department of Health couldn’t even get overtime approved to be able to inspect farmers markets that are mainly only open on weekends. Of which many vendors had not been inspected in years.
When are our elected officials going grow a pair and step up and do something about this? How many more millions have to be spent by taxpayers and local business owners? Who’s family member is going to have to die from a foodborne illness outbreak before something is done about it?
I say its time that we stop sitting back and waiting for change to happen. Let’s get off our rumps, and kick some elected official backsides until they do the job they were put in office to do. Lets hold them accountable!