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On Heels of Outbreaks, Hawaii DOH Puts Efforts into Revising Food Safety Regulations

DEC 13, 2016 | KRISTI ROSA
As Hawaii struggles to recover from food-borne outbreaks that continue to plague the state, health officials led a number of public hearings dedicated to making revisions its food safety regulations.

Officials also announced that the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) officials renounced their “cease and desist” order that was issued in November to Marine Agrifuture, LLC—a company whose products had been linked to the latest Salmonella outbreak in Hawaii—allowing them to recommence operations.

According to a press release, the “cease and desist” order was issued back in November when Hawaii DOH officials traced back 14 Salmonella infections to ogo, a food product dispensed by Marine Agrifuture, LLC. Hawaii DOH officials conducted their investigation on November 2 and 7 and detected Salmonella bacteria in the packing and processing tanks as well as within the farm environment. As a result, Marine Agrifuture’s Kahuku Ogo, Robusta Ogo, and Kahku Sea Asparagus products were all recalled.

Follow-up testing administered later in the month did not detect Salmonella bacteria. “Laboratory test results from samples taken on Nov. 29 indicated that Marine Agrifuture’s processing areas and products were negative for Salmonella. 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,” according to another press release.

As a result, on December 5, the Hawaii DOH issued an official release stating that Marine Agrifuture can “resume sales of ogo and sea asparagus,” with the message that DOH officials will continue to work with the farm in efforts to prevent this from happening again. They also recommended that the farm continue to test their space and send results to the DOH in order to ensure that the farm’s products remain uncontaminated.

On the heels of this outbreak, and the ongoing hepatitis A outbreak that was linked back to contaminated scallops, the Hawaii DOH has channeled all of their efforts into making revisions to their food safety regulations. Although health officials did not make mention of the outbreaks as being the underlying reasons for the revisions, they did note that they were making the revisions to strengthen prevention against food-borne illness.

According to Peter Oshiro, head of the DOH Food Safety program, “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. Updating state requirements and fees and aligning our state with federal standards are essential for creating a world class food safety program in Hawaii.”

One of the biggest focuses of these amendments will be on proper training of all food handlers in food establishments across the state. The amendment calls for at least one person who has received certification at the formal Food Handlers training level to be on each shift to ensure that safer food practices are implemented.

In addition, the DOH wants to adhere to the 2013 FDA Model Food Code, to increase public safety through the use of safe food practices and prevent food-borne illnesses and outbreaks that can result in a number of individuals falling ill and cost a great deal of money to quell.

To see a list of additional amendment propositions, go to the Hawaii DOH’s website. Public comments responding to the proposed changes will be accepted until December 16 and are encouraged.
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