Does the state’s restaurant placard program offer too many chances?

A Waikiki buffet restaurant is no longer allowed to operate.

It is the third food establishment shut down by the Health Department after multiple violations.

“I didn’t know about their sanitary problems,” said Honolulu resident, Kim Jorgensen.

The red placard posted outside Makittii Hawaii located at 2380 Kuhio Ave. says it all.

“So for now the publics health is being protected by the closure of the facility,” said Peter Oshiro with the State Department of Health.

The Health Department launched its investigation into the restaurant on Oct. 13 after receiving a report of someone possibly getting sick.

Inspectors say they found multiple health violations that day for things like inadequate hand washing, stored food temperature violations and even the presence of insects and rodents.

The restaurant was issued a yellow placard on Oct. 13.

Does the state’s restaurant placard program offer too many chances?

Is the state giving restaurants cited for health violations too many chances?

That’s what KHON2 is asking after the recent restaurant shutdowns by the state.

Four days ago, the state Health Department issued Makittii Hawaii, a buffet restaurant in Waikiki, a red placard and closed its doors.

That’s after visiting the restaurant five times over a period of more than three weeks.

Health officials returned to Makittii Tuesday, not for an inspection, but to teach employees food safety lessons.

“Why does the state return so many times?” KHON2 asked.

“Well, we don’t think it’s so many times,” said Peter Oshiro with the DOH.

Oshiro said the placard program is successful, because the large majority of restaurants correct their violations. Two other restaurants on Oahu recently received red placards after multiple visits from the health department.

“What do you tell people who might think, it’s not protecting public safety because people could have gotten sick?” KHON2 asked.

“Again, it’s a weight off between what we’re finding in the establishment and whether or not they’re moving towards correction,” Oshiro said. “When we fine or suspend somebody, we’re litigating the solution. It’s very counterproductive, it costs the taxpayer a lot of time and money, because now I have to talk to the (attorney general)’s office. We have to issue formal legal documents.”

KHON2 went to Makittii to try to talk to the owner and observe the health department class, but no one responded.

But we did talk to a food safety consultant, Tom Frigge, about what he teaches employees.

“First you turn the water on, wet your hands,” Frigge said.

Hand-washing is the most basic lesson, but there are many others.

Frigge says anyone who works in the kitchen, who handles food, should carry a thermometer. He also says food temperatures in coolers should be checked twice a day.

So does he think the state’s placard program gives restaurants too many chances?

“It might be, yeah, because all during that time the public is at risk, isn’t it?” Frigge said.

Since Wednesday is a holiday, the earliest health inspectors could visit Makittii is Thursday.

If a green placard is issued, the restaurant could reopen.

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