Inspecting the Restaurant Inspectors

Mar 30, 2018

Credit Casey Harlow

It’s been four years since the state Department of Health launched its restaurant grading system. Pacific Business News editor in chief A. Kam Napier has more on how that system has been working for restaurants and consumers.

Consider this a success story for thoughtful regulation.

Hawaiʻi’s restaurant owners, state officials and lawmakers worked closely together to design a system of placards that notify the public when a restaurant is in trouble with the Department of Health. That system debuted in July 2014 and now has a track record worth examining.

The inspections themselves haven’t changed. Inspectors still examine restaurants on 54 measures, 27 of which are considered critical to health and safety. It’s these critical measures, such as food handling or storage that could lead to food-borne illnesses, that determine which color sign the restaurant gets. If it has no offenses, or one offense that can be corrected while the inspector is present, the restaurant gets a green “Pass card.” Two or more offenses earn the yellow “Condition pass” card, with inspectors following up quickly to see that the offenses have been corrected before restoring the eatery to a green card.

The Department of Health has conducted 26,000 restaurant inspections since the program began and has only had to issue the red “Closed” placard six times.

The restaurant owners we spoke with feel the public notification has helped the industry improve. In 2014, inspectors found a violation rate of 30 percent. As of 2017, it’s down to 16 percent.