According to the CDC, from 2014-2015, Hawaii experienced 18 food borne related outbreaks, sickening over 1,000 people, causing 211 hospitalizations, and 6 deaths. In 2016, two very public food borne illness outbreaks revived an on-going discussion on food safety on the Hawaiian Islands.  Safe food handling impacts everyone but Hawaii has been without regulation requiring formal training of food handlers, nor are food service operators/owners required to obtain formal training on how to safely feed the public. All that is about to change as public health officials started obligatory public hearings, just this week, introducing new initiatives to adopt the most current FDA Model Food Code, including training requirements. The new proposed Hawaii Food Safety guidelines can be read here.

Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

Hawaii faces a few unique challenges when it comes to food safety. Let’s think about this for a bit. Hawaii imports almost all goods, 92% to be exact, meaning less money for the local economy and with food in transit for extended periods of time, this can create more opportunity for mishandling. Seafood poses an interesting challenge to the Islands and is a common culprit outbreaks recently linked to Hepatitis A, Salmonella, and even certain seafood toxins. Considering seafood is such a significant staple of the population, being it’s time-temperature sensitive nature, and often eaten raw or undercooked, it is easy to understand why. Let’s save Poi for another article, shall we?

Lack of regulation for safe food handling training leaves the training part up to the owner/operator in an industry that is already scrambling for both time and money. Consequentially, without a regulatory demand for such training, this often means a lack of access and resources to such training for those wanting to learn. With public classes seldom conducted locally, food service operators are often provided guidance only after an inspection is done or are often left to read and interpret the food code all on their own. That leaves us to ask, where can food service workers turn to find training? In an economy largely supported by the hospitality industry, including food service, who is teaching food service workers to keep our food safe?

Hawaii’s Food Safety Program

Hawaii does have a food safety program in place that is currently overseen by Dennis Loo, a 29 year veteran of the Hawaii Department of Health and fellow REHS/RS and Food Safety Education Specialist, John A. Nakashima. Even without such required training, the Hawaii Department of Health has offered classes and training to permit holders free of charge to those wanting to learn. Even with the offer of free education, many operators do not take advantage of such offerings. Shortly after the well publicized Hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year, a group of ATC Food Safety Trainers went out to Hawaii and focused on meeting with vendors and operators that were proactively training their food handlers in safe food handling practices. In interviewing various food operators, the team of trainers found that a vast majority of operators they spoke with had high praises for their food inspectors. The vast majority of those interviewed felt inspectors really went above and beyond to help them understand and comply with the code and safe food handling practices. But you don’t have to be in the industry to understand how understaffed and overwhelmed the Hawaii Department of Health has been.

ATC had the opportunity to interview Dennis Loo, back in October 2016. Check this snippet from a conversation between Robert Hemmer, an ATC Certified Food Safety Trainer, and Dennis Loo. It is very clear that Dennis and his team really do want to help operators, not just issue citations. Hawaii food safety education is his passion and it’s evident that his mission is to really get the message through to his students.

ATC Food Safety Opens a Branch in Hawaii

In addition to the Department of Health, there are a other few food safety trainers on the Islands but possibly, the biggest help is yet to come. ATC Food Safety, founded by April Rivas in 2012, is opening their first full time branch in downtown Honolulu this month, bringing with them decades of combined industry experience from a diverse team of local and national trainers to head up their new office and division, Aloha Food Safety! This new undertaking has been hugely supported by the collaborative efforts from KD and Associates and FNA Safety in helping move this project forward.

April Rivas is a Food Safety Expert, ServSafe Educator & Consultant

Article originally published at A Training Company