HDOH hopes UDSA federal funding will prevent food contamination

KAPA‘A — Earl Kashiwagi feels the $370,000 grant the state Department of Heath received from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enhance Hawai‘i’s food emergency response network microbiology lab could benefit safety for food consumers.

The DOH State Laboratories Division’s primary focus is to prepare for the threat of microbial contamination of food products.

Kashiwagi, owner and operator of Esaki, the owner of Esaki’s Produce in Kapa‘a, felt the grant could allow the state’s ability to test food products using nationally-validated protocols quicker.

The USDA inspections cause delays in the shipping process because inspectors are trying to find out what boxes in a shipment may be contaminated.

“This will make it safer for the general public, as long as the state is researching things and it’s not a guessing game,” Kashiwagi said. “If you keep guessing, you create a disaster for all of the aspects of the industry, and people want their products tested, and the USDA keeps guessing.”

One import affected by this process are berries coming from the mainland, according to a DOH press release.

Berries are listed as one of the top 10 imported food products to Hawai‘i, based on 2016 data from the state Department of Agriculture, and are commonly infected with cyclosporiasis, which causes an intestinal illness from consuming food or water contaminated by the microscopic parasite.

This illness is especially harmful to consumers with immune deficiencies.

Remedios Gose, chief of the DOH Laboratory Preparedness and Response Branch, oversees the DOH project, and said the grant will have particular value for Hawai‘i residents because of the potential risk of cyclosporiasis.

“Developing the capability to conduct in-state tests for this illness instead of sending samples to the FDA office on the West Coast will allow us to be more self-reliant,” Gose said in the DOH press release.

The grant has the potential to be extended up to four additional years for a total of $2 million over the five years, and will be good through June 21.

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Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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