Chinatown rats lead state to hold classes


POSTED: Monday, December 28, 2009

State health workers are taking another tack to clean up a rat problem in a Chinatown market: educational sessions for merchants.

Department of Health workers will hold the first session for Kekaulike Market's 22 vendors tomorrow and follow it up with a second session in January.

“;We think it's a good idea to make sure everybody understands the basics in what they should be doing,”; said Larry Lau, the department's deputy director for environmental health.

It is one of several measures the Health Department is taking to eliminate the market's rat population, including visiting vendors to point out violations and reviewing the property manager's pest control plan.

Because of the economy, the Health Department has only nine health inspectors for 5,500 food establishments on Oahu. The meeting will help the department address the problem throughout the market rather than individually by vendor.

The problem was brought to the state's attention after local blogger Larry Geller posted video online last month of rats crawling over fresh produce inside the market.

“;The video was a big wake-up call to all of us at Kekaulike Market,”; wrote Bob Gerell, of Gerell Management, which manages the property, in an e-mail last week.

After the video was posted on the Web, the building's pest control company increased baiting and trapping by 1,000 percent, and management began preparing weekly reports for the Health Department, he said.

Merlyn Almasco, owner of Merlyn's Market in Kekaulike Market, said the economy and media coverage of the rats caused business to fall off by 50 percent, making 2009 her worst year in 11 years at the market.

“;Mix them together, it's really bad,”; she said.

She said vendors have cleaned up areas where rats can hide.

Paul Min of You Market 2 said he has had drywall taken out that rats could hide behind. He also wipes down the flat surfaces of his stall with bleach and said other vendors should do the same.

“;If they don't do it, they're not doing their job,”; he said.

While supportive of the Health Department's meeting, Min believes the turnout might be low because most of the vendors will still be working when the meeting starts at 4:30 p.m.

Wesley Fong, who is helping to organize the meeting, said the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii will provide meeting space at its office and translate Health Department fliers into Chinese and Vietnamese.

He said the discussion will cover proper food storage.

But some shoppers at Kekaulike yesterday were not fazed by the presence of rats.

Jason Allen, 33, of Manoa said Chinatown might not be clean, but it has the cheapest produce in town.

“;It's kind of a trade-off,”; he said. “;You just have to come in and pick out the best you can see.”;