New state food safety rules enhance public health protection

LIHUE — New statewide safety rules for food establishments go into effect Saturday.

The Hawaii Department of Health amended Chapter 50, Food Safety Code, after public hearings were held on Kauai, Hawaii Island, Maui and Oahu in December 2016 and March 2017.

One of the major rule changes is a mandate for Food Handlers Education certification for persons-in-charge at all food establishments. This will ensure a minimum baseline of food safety knowledge for facility owners and managers.

“In reality, I think it’s probably a good idea that more people are certified to handle food safely,” said John Ferguson, owner of Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company. “It just makes the environment in restaurants a lot safer for everybody.”

Studies have shown that food establishments with properly trained persons-in-charge have a lower occurrence of critical food safety violations that are directly linked to food illnesses.

“I already have some employees that have gone through the program at the school, so they are certified themselves,” Ferguson said. “I was certified many times throughout my career, but I probably need a refresher as well too.

The new rule requires at least one employee present during normal work hours, including during food preparation, must have a formal food handler’s training level certification. DOH will accept certification recognized by the American National Standards Institute.

“We’re actually hoping to do some renovations to the restaurant in early December, so I’m trying to schedule a class for the entire staff,” said Ferguson, who employs about 50 people. “It’s just difficult for us to try to get away during class time. Most of my employees are working in the morning time, and that’s usually when they have the classes.”

Training is also available online with fees averaging $10-$15 for certification. Proof of certification will be required during health inspections after Sept. 2, 2018. DOH will allow the industry one year to comply with this new provision.

Ferguson said. “So it’s not like we have to have a change this September 2.”

Health inspectors may also post placards during all types of inspection, including those for general complaints, and may post a “CLOSED” red placard at food establishments operating without a valid permit.

“If somebody calls and says they got sick, then they may post a placard if they find there’s something wrong,” Ferguson said. “If you were at fault, they might put a placard up at that point, too.”

There are several other changes to the state’s Food Safety Rules. DOH may refuse permit renewals for food establishments with unpaid fines or stipulated agreements more than 30 days overdue. Their approval will be required prior to the sale of all “Wild Harvested Mushrooms.”

“I think it’s a positive thing, it’s just a shame the government keeps throwing more stuff on our shoulders all the time,” Ferguson said, “between that and the minimum wage and everything else.”

Special Event Temporary Food Establishment permits will be restricted to 31 days at a time. Consecutive permits may be allowed. Permit fees will remain at $100 for a 20-day permit with an additional $5 fee for each day over 20 days.

The section of the rules for Mobile Food Establishments has been removed, and these regulations will be incorporated into the general regulations for all food establishments. All Mobile Food Establishments are required to access a state-approved facility to support their food operations safely.

“But as far as the sanitation thing goes I think it’s better all around,” Ferguson said. “That way the guys in your food trucks they’re certified, so you can kind of be a bit more secure going to a food truck, restaurant, and anywhere else.”

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