DOH: Most local produce vendors not under permit, inspection program

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Sep 02 2012 09:47:00 AM HST

Eating healthy used to mean eating lots of fruits and vegetables, but who is watching to make sure those healthy items won't be the very things that make you sick?

HONOLULU -

Buying local is important for some residents as they shop.

"I think it's fresher, so it does taste better," said Kim Locksley of Waikele.

But, there is just one problem when it comes to making sure this food is safe.

"Most produce vendors are not under a permit or inspection program," said Peter Oshiro from the state Department of Health.

As long as the fruits or vegetables are whole and uncut, they aren't inspected for things like bacteria that can cause sickness, or even death.

"Over the last 10-to-15 years, all these pathogens have caused a great numbers of recalls and illness so we have to be much more diligent," said Oshiro.

But, the only safety program is a voluntary audit through the Hawaii Farm Bureau, which makes sure products are packed in clean and separate boxes, workers wash their hands and produce, and animals are kept in contaminating production areas.

"Customers don't expect to get sick from local foods, so we try to prevent that by requiring good agricultural practices," said Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms.

Following stricter safety protocols can cost a lot.  For a bag of greens, it could add up to 50 cents more a pound.

Okimoto and other farms found at the Kapiolani Community College farmer's market are in the minority.

Many small farms do not follow the same rules mainly because of the cost.

That worries some farmers and shoppers alike, because a recall of any local produce or fruit could end up costing the entire industry much more.

"Anytime you have any scare, it doesn't even have to be here.  But if it's here, I couldn't even imagine how it would affect farmers here.  It's scary," said Okimoto.

The federal government recently passed the Food Safety Modernization Act which would require more inspections but delays have kept the program from being implemented.

To be safe, Oshiro advises you to always thoroughly wash your hands and your produce before eating.

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