KAILUA-KONA — Keauhou restaurant Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai was cited by the state Department of Health for removing a food safety placard, and other major food code violations.
Kona Daze LLC, which does business as Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai, was hit Thursday with a $13,000 fine for intentionally removing a posted yellow “conditional pass” placard from the facility and re-posting a green “pass” placard, and noncompliance with food safety requirements during routine and follow-up inspections since the start of the new year.
Jeff Daley, director of operations at Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai, took the blame for the placard issue. He said he is new to the island and didn’t understand the laws.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse. I’m saying I didn’t put it up, and we will pay our fine,” said Daley, who took the position about two months ago during a turnover in management.
Since the placard was issued, Daley said, Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai has been “diligently working” to address violations.
“We don’t minimize anything they say, we take it to heart and get after it,” he said. “Everyone here has been working hard to address the issues.”
Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai is located in Keauhou Shopping Center. The restaurant featuring “Hawaiian Heritage Cuisine” remains open.
“A yellow placard just means there’s some violations, but it is still safe to eat there,” said Anna Koethe, a spokesperson with the state Department of Health (DOH).
She explained in an email that the department “has the discretion to allow a restaurant to continue to operate and serve food as long as there is no immediate risk to public health.
“It should be safe for people to eat at a restaurant with a yellow placard as long as the restaurant follows guidance provided by DOH professionals,” she wrote. “DOH inspectors will return to do follow-up inspections within two working days to ensure the restaurant in question has addressed any outstanding issues and that they have fully implemented the corrective actions stipulated in their inspection reports.”
Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai was cited for the following food code violations: Bare-handed contact with ready-to-eat foods; improper storage of raw foods above other foods; failure to date-stamp refrigerated ready-to-eat foods; failure to ensure the availability of hand wash sinks; and failure to provide hand wash sinks with hand towels.
The yellow placard was issued after a Jan. 4 inspection at the restaurant that found those five major food code violations, which are conditions known to cause foodborne illnesses, according to the DOH. The next day, after receiving a complaint, the DOH inspected the restaurant and found staff had removed the yellow placard and replaced it with a green placard from a previous inspection.
Follow-up inspections on Jan. 8 and 10 found additional outstanding issues, including bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods and failing to adhere to the restaurant’s written procedure for handling perishable foods out of refrigeration beyond the prescribed time.
The yellow placard must be displayed at the restaurant until all violations have been corrected. Koethe said Thursday that DOH agents were planning to inspect the restaurant today.
Daley said they are ready for the re-inspection.
“We are confident that we have met everything they have asked us to do,” he said. “We’re really committed to making sure the place is fixed and in compliance.”
In response to a question of when, in general, a red placard is issued, Koethe said via email that such a placard is issued when “there is a situation at a restaurant that poses a significant health risk to the public that cannot be addressed while our inspectors are on the premises.” Such situations would include a release of sewage in the food preparation area or a lack of hot water for sanitizing purposes.
“In the case of Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai restaurant, critical violations of issues that could lead to illness were addressed by the facility prior to the health inspector leaving the site,” she said.
Abbas Hassan, agent for Choy, said Choy neither owns nor is affiliated with the restaurant. It uses his name, but Choy does not receive royalties because of a technicality Hassan described as a bad situation.
“This is giving the chef a black eye,” Hassan said Thursday evening. “He’s not even involved in it at all.”
Since the inception of the state’s restaurant placarding program in 2014, more than 26,000 inspections have been conducted and more than 4,500 yellow “conditional pass” placards for major food safety violations have been issued. Of the 4,500 yellow placards issued, only six have resulted in red “closed” placards due to noncompliance.