Public deserves access to inspection reports
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It's troubling to hear that Hawai'i lags behind other states and its own goal in providing online public access to restaurant inspection reports.
As the Advertiser's Treena Shapiro reported, residents in search of online restaurant inspections will come up empty. What they'll find, however, is a copy of the agency's strategic plan that includes the goal of getting inspection results online by 2000.
Safe to say they've missed that mark.
For his part, Rex Mitsunaga, the Department of Health's Sanitation Branch program manager, said the issue is resources a lack of funds, computers and adequate staffing to conduct the needed follow-up inspections an online program warrants.
Part of the solution should focus on evaluating the efficiency of the current process. Taking the process online beats having inspectors turn in handwritten reports only to have clerical staff struggle to decipher their handwriting and type the information into a system a system the public has no access to.
But the key point is the fundamental responsibility to allow public access to the reports as a matter of public health.
The Hawai'i Restaurant Association worries that consumers might "misunderstand" the reports and thus a restaurateur's business could be adversely affected.
That's absurd. Millions of other consumers have managed to decipher similar online reports elsewhere in the nation. From Alexandria, Va., to Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond, diners have access online to inspections reports.
"I'm sure most people can decipher for themselves what the report says. But we also want to make it user friendly," Mitsunaga says. And he's right.
The larger issue of having adequate staff to conduct follow-up visits once violations are addressed is a valid one. Currently each inspector averages 350 food establishments; considering the FDA guidelines and the demands on his staff, Mitsunaga says that number should be closer to 250 establishments per inspector to get the job done.
That means his staff of 12 sanitarians would need to grow to 22, something both the state House and Senate Health Committee chairmen say they would consider.
"If you have an establishment that gets cited repeatedly, the public definitely deserves to know," said Senate Health Committee Chairman David Ige.
Precisely. Consumers deserve to eat in clean and safe establishments and they should have access to public information that will enable them to make smart choices in that regard.