In the wake of two foodborne illness outbreaks, Hawaii began a week of public hearings on revisions to its food code on Monday.

Also on Monday, state officials cleared a seaweed grower-shipper whose products were linked to one of the outbreaks to resume operations.

illustration Hawaii food safety tastyThe Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) lifted its cease and desist order against Marine Agrifuture LLC, allowing the company to resume the sale and distribution of Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo and Sea Asparagus from its Kahuku farm.

In November lab tests confirmed 14 people on Oahu had Salmonella infections. All of them developed diarrheal illness from mid- to late October. Four required hospitalization.

“The farm is located in Kahuku on Oahu. Reports of Salmonella infections on Oahu were linked to consumption of ogo (or limu) and subsequently led to the investigation of Marine Agriculture LLC on Nov. 2 and 7,” according to the health department’s Nov. 10 news release announcing the cease and desist order.

“During the investigation, testing was conducted on environmental, processing area, and ogo samples. Laboratory tests identified Salmonella bacteria in the packing and processing tanks and in the farm environment.”

As of Monday, state officials said follow-up testing showed no Salmonella.

“Laboratory test results from samples taken on Nov. 29 indicated that Marine Agrifuture’s processing areas and products were negative for Salmonella,” the department reported. “The wells, all inlets to production ponds, and the growing and rinse tanks were also free from Salmonella and levels of indicator organisms — Enterococci and Clostridium perfringens — that would signal possible environmental contamination.”

Hepatitis A outbreak count holding steady
raw scallops
Also on Monday, state officials began a week of public hearings regarding proposed changes to Hawaii’s food safety codes. The action comes on the heels of not only the Salmonella outbreak, but a four-month Hepatitis A outbreak traced to frozen scallops from the Philippines that were served raw by restaurants in the Genki Sushi fast food chain.

The Hepatitis A outbreak count was at 292 and holding, as of the state health department’s Nov. 30 update. The outbreak cases began June 10, with the most recent victim becoming ill on Oct. 9.

State health officials did not reference either outbreak in their announcement of the proposed food safety code revisions, but they did say they are focused on preventing foodborne illnesses.

“The department is continuing to raise the state’s food safety standards by further updating regulations to increase the focus on prevention and reduce the risk of residents and visitors contracting foodborne illness,” said Peter Oshiro, head of the DOH Food Safety program.

“Updating state requirements and fees and aligning our state with federal standards are essential for creating a world class food safety program in Hawaii.”

Training is key element of amendments

Knowing the correct answer for a food safety certification question about proper food temperatures is not the same as knowing how to properly use a food thermometer. On-site follow-up training ensures that classroom learning is retained and implemented.
Knowing the correct answer for a food safety certification question about proper food temperatures is not the same as knowing how to properly use a food thermometer. On-site follow-up training ensures that classroom learning is retained and implemented.

The proposed amendments include establishing a new food safety education requirement for “persons-in-charge” at all food establishments. The rule would require at least one employee on every shift be certified at the formal Food Handlers Training level.

“This will ensure a standard baseline of food safety knowledge for all establishment owners and managers,” according to the health department public hearing notice.

“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.

“The department is also proposing the adoption of the 2013 FDA Model Food Code. This will provide Hawaii with the most current nationally recognized food code based on the latest scientific knowledge on food safety.”

Additional proposed changes to the state’s food safety rules include:

  • Removing the 20 days of sale limit for homemade foods — cottage foods — that are not considered a potential public health risk;
  • Removing the restriction on the number of days a Special Event Temporary Food Establishment permit may be valid;
  • Establishing a new fee structure for Temporary Food Establishment Permits — $100 for a 20-day permit plus $5 for each additional day over 20 to a maximum of one year;
  • Streamlining regulations for mobile food establishments — e.g. food trucks — by incorporating the requirements into existing rules for their base operations or “brick and mortar” establishments;
  • Revising the fee structure for mobile units with no increase to the total amount currently paid by a mobile operator;
  • Allowing placarding during all inspections;
  • Allowing the state to refuse permit renewal for non-payment of fines or stipulated
  • agreements more than 30 days overdue; and
  • Requiring state approval for the sale of “Wild Harvested Mushrooms.”

The draft rules are available for review at department-of-health-administrative-rules-title-11/.

Written public comments are recommended and may be submitted at the public hearings or to the Sanitation Branch at 99-945 Halawa Valley St., Aiea, Hawaii 96701 The deadline to submit comments is prior to the close of business on Dec. 16.

Remaining public hearings are scheduled for:

  • map of HawaiiTuesday, Dec. 6, from  2 p.m. – 5 p.m. for Island of Maui — UH-Maui College Community Services Building 310 Kaahumanu Ave., Bldg. #205, Kahului;
  • Wednesday, Dec. 7, from 2 p.m. to  5 p.m. for Island of Hawaii-Hilo — Environmental Health Building Conference Room 1582 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo;
  • Thursday, Dec. 8, from 2 5 p.m. for Island of Hawaii-Kona — West Hawaii Civic Center, Bldg. G, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway, Kailua-Kona; and
  • Friday, Dec. 9, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for Island of Kauai — Lihue Health Center Conference Room, 3040 Umi St., Lihue.

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