New Rules for Food Establishments

The State of Hawaii has new rules for food establishments that may bring big changes for local restaurants and groceries.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” said Department of Health (DOH) Inspector Cathleen Sakamoto, of Molokai. “Chapter 50 is very different from Chapter 12 [previous law]. The whole point is to lessen food-spread illness.”

Sakamoto held two workshops on the new Chapter 50 regulations last week to educate business owners and pass out information on the changes.

While the new law has been years in the making, she said, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed it into law in February. As soon as Sakamoto has notified all food establishments on Molokai of the new regulations, inspections will begin, she said.

While it’s all in the name of public safety and reducing the spread of foodborne sickness, the new requirements have some food business owners scrambling to make changes.

For others, like Jeff Egusa, co-owner of Friendly Market Center, the new rules aren’t causing a sweat.

“I think it’s good for the consumer, less chance of illness,” said Egusa. “It seems to be pretty common sense kind of stuff.”

Look for Placards

The most publicly noticeable change is a color-coded placard system that indicates the level of compliance with current regulations. According to the DOH, the goals of the placard system include reduction in the occurrence of foodborne illness and informing the public of the most recent inspection results of each establishment. Placards must be posted within five feet of the main entrance to the business.

“It can be a major impact on your bottom line if the business down the street has [a green placard but you have yellow],” said Sakamoto.

A green placard will be posted when no more than one major violation is observed during a routine inspection, and the violation must be corrected at the time of inspection. A yellow placard will be posted when a major violation remains uncorrected after inspection or when two or more major violations are present. In this case, a follow-up inspection will be conducted within two business days, and if the violations have been corrected, the yellow will be replaced with a green placard. If, however, the violations remain, the yellow placard must remain posted for one year, according to Sakamoto.

A red placard, accompanied by closure of the business, will be immediately issued when multiple major violations indicating an imminent health hazard have been observed during inspection. Examples include sewage overflow, rodent or vermin infestation, no hot water or severe unsanitary conditions. The red placard and closure of the facility will remain until a follow-up inspection shows the hazards have been corrected.

In addition to being posted within the business, Sakamoto said inspection results will also be available online for anyone to see “so it’s important to strive for a green card.”

Check the Temperature

Holding refrigerators previously had to remain below 45 degrees, however the new rule mandates fridges be kept under 41 degrees.

Raw eggs must be received from the producer at 45 degrees or less, while other refrigerated goods must be received at 41 degrees. That means when the barge comes in and employees pick up perishable items, they have to check to make sure the holding temperature is correct, or they could be penalized.

“Sometimes food sits on the wharf before pick-up,” said Sakamoto. “You’ll have to tell them ‘I cannot accept my food unless it’s at 41 degrees’… There needs to be some accountability… we’ll work on that.”

For some food business owners on Molokai, that’s cause for concern.

“Sometimes [Young Brothers] has it sitting in the sun,” said Marlene Sproat of Coffees of Hawaii Espresso Bar, adding that by the time she comes into town from Ho`olehua, the temperature might have risen on sensitive items.

“That’s what I’m scared about,” she said. “That could mean a lot of money lost if it’s too warm [and have to refuse it]. Young Brothers should work with us on this.”

For others, it’s not much cause for concern.

“Young Brothers tells us when they’re unloading,” said Egusa. “If you wait till 11, that’s your fault. [But] I don’t think [the DOH] has enough manpower to watch really closely [and check temperatures].”

In addition to holding temperatures, Sakamoto said cooked foods must be heated above 135 degrees and kept above that temperature before being sold. Between refrigeration at 41 degrees and heated foods at 135, anything in between is subject to the “four-hour rule,” said Sakamoto, the amount of time after which certain foods need to be discarded.

“The moment the ingredients are exposed to an unsafe temperature [between cold and hot], they need to be sold within four hours,” she explained. That means if spam musubi is made at 6 a.m. and left at room temperature, it needs to be sold by 10 a.m. This type of food requires a time stamp indicating the discard time.

Put the Gloves On

“[Chapter 50 calls for] no bare hand contact,” said Sakamoto. “Gloves and utensils will play a big role [in food preparation]. You work in a bar and put a lime in a glass – you have to wear gloves.”

The rules regarding bare hand contact of ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches, sushi and burritos have also changed. Formerly, the rules advised minimal bare hand contact as long as hands are properly washed. The new law prohibits bare hand contact with any ready-to-eat foods and enforces the use of gloves or utensils whenever handling this type of food.

“Bare hand contact is a critical violation,” said Sakamoto.

Along with providing a hand wash sink stocked with soap and paper towels, rules state that employees are required to wash their hands throughout the day and anytime hands may be contaminated.

“A lot of diseases can be prevented simply by washing hands,” Sakamoto said.

Not only must hand wash sinks be properly placed in the kitchen, they must be assessable at all times.

“It’s easy to put a baking sheet over [the hand wash sink] because you need more counter space, then forget about it and use the three-compartment sink instead,” said Sakamoto, calling this scenario a violation. The three-compartment sink is required to be used for washing, rinsing and sanitation of cooking implements.

The new rules also mandate that employees who are ill not work in the kitchen. She said sick workers handling food also constitutes a critical violation.

Other Changes

Under old rules, required permits were renewed every two years; the new rule requires renewal every year, with a 20 percent late payment fee.

Fees to obtain and renew a food permit have also changed. Sakamoto said previously, fees were based on the number of operations conducted within the facility, with a maximum fee of $150. Now, fees are based on the assigned risk category as well as the number of square feet in the business, which means fees can now reach $600 for a hotel restaurant, she said.

An advisory must now be posted if an establishment serves raw or undercooked foods such as sashimi, seared fish, undercooked-steak, etc. to inform consumers of increased risk from illness from eating these foods. The written advisory must be provided on the menu, placards or other public notification.

Other new rules mandate a supervisor or person of authority must be present at all times.

For more information or to read Chapter 50 in its entirety, visit health.hawaii.gov/san/ and click on the links for new food regulations.


One Response to “New Rules for Food Establishments”

  1. I have known about these new rules for Hawaii food establishments for some time now and have written about it on my food blog tastinghawaii.com. I find it interesting that this article is written with a certain negative, almost threatening slant regarding new rules from the Health Department. The article should explain that the health department is trying to help the people of Molokai from getting sick from food borne illnesses. This is not about the health department taking on the restaurants, it’s about informing the people of Molokai about changing their habits, habits that could make their families sick… very sick. And what about all of the other areas of concern on this island, luaus, church food functions, etc., etc., who is checking on so many other food related possible catastrophes? Get it straight!

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