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EXCLUSIVE: State cracks down on illegal food vendors

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Feb 15 2013 06:55:47 AM HST

Just how safe are the goods you buy from these roadside stands?

HONOLULU -

You see them most often on weekends and holidays -- local favorites on the roadside.

But, just because the food looks and smells good doesn't mean it's good to go.

"We have no idea what conditions these foods are made under and it's a big problem," said Peter Oshiro of the State Food and Sanitation Branch.  "This illegal vending is a problem and it needs to be addressed."

From huli huli chicken to pickled mango, you can find vendors hoping you will stop and satisfy a craving.

But, those operating illegally could be soon shut down.

"There were like 20 flies on the cutting board and the fruit."

Department of Health Sanitation Inspector Mike Okamura

The health department says because of budget cuts, it has been seven years since they have done spot checks on weekends and after hours.  That changes this month.

An extra five inspectors and extra money for overtime will mean a crackdown.

"Any illegal roadside vendors we are going to issue a cease-and-desist, which means they have to stop selling food to the public immediately," said Oshiro.

Violators could face a hefty fine of up to $1,000.  But, the department says it is willing to work with people to get them into compliance.

"We are interested in stopping practices that endanger public health and comply with rules and regulations," said Oshiro.

The fruit stands that sell whole fruits and vegetables don't need health department permits.

"It crosses the line when people, they process the fruit they are selling.  If they are cutting it, having it ready to eat it, or if they are cooking it or processing it into jams and jellies, then they are going to need a permit," said Oshiro.

Our cameras stopped at one popular North Shore stand.  Health officials asked to see if their permit was in order.

"Do you know where they cut the fruits?" asked Oshiro.  The workers told us they were cut in the lunch wagon.

But, just minutes before, a complaint about a vendor cutting fruit using a dirty knife and cutting board triggered a visit by a food inspector who confirmed the unsanitary practice.

"What struck me was the amount of flies.  There were like 20 flies on the cutting board and the fruit," said DOH Sanitation Inspector Mike Okamura.  "And the person was not doing anything to chase them away.  He was cutting fruit and bagging the fruit."

Unsuspecting visitors and residents would probably rather not be surprised by getting more than just a refreshing treat when they pull over.

"It's one of those thing you have to be careful of not matter where you go," said visitor Peter B.

You would hate to think that "killer mango" means anything more than good eats.

State health inspectors plan to be out later this month looking at everything from farmers' markets to food trucks.

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