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Sunday, June 8, 2003



Officials warn
of dangers of eating
roadside food

Kalua pork and poke
are some of the items
that may cause illness


People who buy kalua pork, poi, poke or other foods from roadside vendors or caterers that do not have health permits "are playing Russian roulette," says Brian J.J. Choy, chief of the state Sanitation Branch.

Outbreaks of illnesses have been reported among people buying foods from vendors operating without permits, as well as illegally operating catering operations, he said.

In one case, 11 illnesses were reported from a staph infection resulting from barbecue pork sold without permit by an organization to raise funds, he said.

The Department of Health has had increasing reports of roadway vendors and catering operations without a food establishment permit, Choy said. "The neighbor islands seem to have more people trying to make money, selling on the roadside. It's an economic situation."

He said such vendors also "prey upon the wedding industry," selling food for dinners on the beach or parties. "It's very hard to control temperatures and you know how warm the weather is."

People have been reported breaking out in hives in an allergic reaction to fish, usually ahi, mahimahi and akule, purchased from roadside vendors, that wasn't refrigerated properly, he said.

Choy said he "gets nervous" about people selling poi that's made in an unpermitted situation. With the poi shortage, he said, "it is very enticing. We have had complaints of graduation parties, people getting sick, traced back to poi."

Consumers are urged to ask vendors for proof of state approval before buying any prepared food item. The permit either will have approved dates of sale or an expiration date.

Otherwise, there is no way of determining how the food was prepared or whether the source was legal, Choy said.

Health officials said these roadside vendors don't include lunchwagons, which have the proper permits.

Cold food should be kept at 45 degrees or colder on drained ice. Hot food should be maintained at a minimum temperature of 140 degrees or hotter.

When vendors are found operating without permits, Choy said, "we ask them to cease and desist. We don't get into a penalty. We try to get them off (the road) or to operate properly."

Roadside fruit vendors only need a permit if the fruit is cut, because they must be able to wash their hands, Choy said.

He said pickled mangoes usually are safe but the rind of melon may have bacteria on it. There have been cases on the mainland where cantaloupes had E. coli bacteria, he said, suggesting people wash any fruit purchased.

The hot line for reporting illnesses to an epidemiologist on Oahu is 566-5049. The toll-free number on the neighbor islands is 1-800-360-2575.

For more information from the Health Department, on Honolulu, call 586-8000; Kauai, 241-3323; Maui, 984-8230; and on the Big Island, Hilo, 933-0917, and Kona, 322-1507.



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