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Kanemitsu Bakery to Appeal $90,000 Fine

Dept. of Health cites sanitation violations

Kanemitsu Bakery plans to appeal $90,000 of fines in violations issued after failing to suspend operations for two days in March following a Department of Health (DOH) order. Kanemitsu Bakery, makers of the famous Molokai hot bread, distributes its products statewide. Customers have been giving their specialty breads rave reviews for over 75 years, but the DOH’s reaction wasn’t so enthusiastic.

“On March 7, an inspection by the DOH uncovered serious deficiencies in the maintenance and manufacturing practices conducted at the facility,” stated a DOH press release. Violations included improper cleaning of cooking implements, inadequate control of rodents, lack of hot water, and general unsanitary conditions.

A DOH inspector makes yearly visits to all Molokai food establishments to check for proper maintenance and sanitary conditions, according to DOH Communications Director Janice Okubo.

According to the DOH, the bakery was instructed not to manufacture, sell, or distribute any products until the deficiencies had been corrected. A return visit of the inspector on March 9 confirmed that the major violations had been addressed, and the bakery was OK’d to continue operation. The $90,000 fine was issued because Kanemitsu Bakery did not stop operating during that two-day period.

Kanemitsu Bakery owner George Kanemitsu, however, tells the story a little differently, saying he thinks the violations were “over-exaggerated.” He said the two major violations were fixed within two days, but called other violations “minor,” such as no paper towels or hand soap.

“I don’t want to be above the law, just show me something that makes sense,” he said, mentioning a penalty of $10,000 for a dirty can opener. He also cited “personal issues” with the Molokai inspector.

Back in 2000, the bakery was also fined $90,000 for similar violations. Kanemitsu said he contacted the governor, and most of the fines eventually got waived. Kanemitsu said after that, there was a period of years when the DOH did not inspect the bakery.

“It’s not my problem if they don’t come,” said Kanemitsu. “That’s their job.”

When the inspection was completed in March of this year, Kanemitsu said they were awaiting repair on the sewer line. He said plumbers are so busy on Molokai that they hadn’t yet come to fix the problem. The second major violation was a malfunction of the hot water heater, during which time staff was using an alternate hot water source for proper sanitation. Kanemitsu said both issues were taken care of within two days of the inspector’s first visit.

Kanemitsu claims he was not told to cease operation on March 7. On March 8, they were told not to operate, but by that night, Kanemitsu said the corrections had already been made, so he thought it was OK to bake. The next day they were given the official green light to continue operations.

Kanemitsu said at that time, he was given no indication that fines would be accrued. The inspector delivered the notice of violation on May 2. At that time, Kanemitsu said he hired a lawyer and plans to appeal the fines.

According to DOH Communications Director Janice Okubo, the bakery has 20 calendar days after receiving the notice to request a hearing with a hearings officer, who then makes a recommendation to the state Director of Health.

She added that fines are based on the number of violations and multiplied by the time period during which operations were continued after the DOH’s order of suspension. Kanemitsu said 80 to 100 violations were listed.

“If they had stopped to make products when they were asked to, that penalty would not have been imposed,” Okubo said. “As far as current staff can recall, no other establishment on Molokai has been served a notice of violation or penalty fine.”

As of Friday, the Maui Sanitation Division, which oversees Molokai inspections, did not return calls for comment.

No illnesses related to the consumption of food from the facility have been reported, according to the DOH, but Kanemitsu said sales did drop after the story hit statewide news. He expects customers to keep coming, however, and said he is “not worried about the appeal.”