Food safety rules adopting inspection grading system

Restaurants and other food establishments would be required to post green, yellow or red placards to show the results of their last health inspections under proposed new food safety rules, the state Department of Health announced.

A public hearing on the rules will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 5 in the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Community Services Building. Other public hearings will be on Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai.

The last substantive change to the rules came in 1996, Health Department officials said.

The proposed food safety rules call for permit fee increases and adopting the 2009 U.S. Food and Drug Administration Model Food Code, introducing a “highly visible” restaurant grading system that will require food establishments to post the results of their last state inspection and moving to annual permitting, instead of once every two years.

“Adoption of the FDA Model Food Code will provide Hawaii with nationally recognized standards based on the most current scientific findings on food safety,” said Peter Oshiro, Sanitation Branch chief. “We look forward to enhancing our current state food regulations with these new and improved rules.”

The new grading system would consist of a green “pass” placard, a yellow “conditional” placard and a red “closed” placard.

The “pass” green placard would be given to food facilities that have one major violation or less that is corrected prior to completion of the inspection.

A “conditional pass” yellow placard would be issued to a facility with two or more major violations during an inspection regardless of whether the violations are corrected on site. Major violations would require a follow-up inspection. Those would be conducted the next working day after notification from the facility that all major violations have been corrected.

A “closed” red placard would be issued if there were imminent health hazards that warrant immediate closure of the facility. Those could include lack of water or electricity, sewage overflows in food preparation areas, sick employees or vermin infestations.

Major health inspection violations at food establishments are conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA recognize as the main causes of food illnesses, the Health Department news release said. Conditions that lead to major health violations include lack of hand washing, poor temperature controls and contamination by raw or uncooked foods.

Health officials said that they anticipate the fee increases outlined in the new food safety rules would fund 13 additional full-time inspector positions for fiscal years 2012 to 2015. The additional staffing would support an expanded inspection schedule with a minimum of three on-site inspections each year for high-risk establishments, two on-site inspections each year for medium-risk establishments and annual visits for all other establishments to meet national program standards and to reduce food-borne illness.

“The new food safety rules will mean a huge step forward for our program and will result in overall improvements by expanding food safety testing, pesticide monitoring of local produce, and shellfish monitoring, among many other activities that protect public health every day,” Oshiro said.

To view the proposed rules, go to