Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Honolulu Restaurant Serves Up E. coli O157:H7

Customers of Sekiya's Restaurant and Delicatessen were greeted yesterday with orange traffic cones in the parking lot and a sign on the door that read "Closed for maintenance. Sorry for the inconvenience".

According to the Hawaii State Department of Health, Sekiya's was the source of a small outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 last December. The restaurant was inspected as a result of the outbreak, and the Department of Health had worked with the restaurant owners to identify deficiencies in the restaurant's practices and operations. A follow-up inspection had confirmed that all major violations had been corrected. But a seventh case of bloody diarrhea, caused by the identical strain of E. coli O157:H7, was reported this month.

Sekiya's has discarded its existing stock of food and disposable items, is carrying out a ceiling-to-floor disinfection, and has hired a food safety consultant to help to train its employees in safe food handing. Management is also reviewing all of the restaurant's practices to make certain that it is in full compliance with the Department of Health's Food Code.

Hawaii struggles with a shortage of inspectors. The Honolulu Advertiser reports that there are only 12 inspectors covering the island of Oahu. These inspectors are responsible for 4,200 restaurants – just one inspector for every 350 restaurants – in addition to swimming pools, tattoo parlors, and any other establishments where sanitation might be an issue. Kauai has just three inspectors to oversee 600 restaurants; Maui has four, and the island of Hawaii makes do with seven inspectors to monitor 1,400 restaurants scattered over the Big Island. The state's inspection staff is spread so thin that it can do nothing more than respond to complaints and "put out fires", according to Peter Oshiro of the Department of Health.

As for Sekiya's it will reopen – after the Department of Health verifies its corrective actions and reinstates the restaurant's permit.

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