Hawai‘i’s traditions support many food celebrations each year. Family birthdays, baby lū‘au, graduations, anniversaries and weddings, as well as ethnic traditions for New Year’s Day and Chinese New Year, are all reasons for festivities. National holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July provide more celebration opportunities. In Hawai‘i, that means food – and lots of it – as a vital part of these events. Furthermore, some ethnic and local dishes are “essentials” on all party menus. Thus, Hawai‘i families often host large parties, serving lots of food, beverages and meals in family dining rooms, on lānai, under tents on the lawn, even at beach parks. These celebrations often continue for several hours.

Hawai‘i families have an increased kuleana (responsibility) for food safety awareness. Food safety is critical to protect friends and family from foodborne illnesses. In 2018, Hawai‘i families must be aware that several island “essentials” on party menus are problematic. These include raw foods like fi sh and shellfish, smoked and preserved meats, as well as salads and dressings made with mayonnaise and hardboiled eggs. Most of us know that undercooked meat and “cross-contamination” (chopping fresh produce on cutting boards used to prepare raw meats or using a meat knife to chop vegetables) can cause lots of pilikia (trouble). Using vegetables and herbs from a home garden is also problematic. Current recommendations require carefully washing each leaf separately, and drying thoroughly. Buy meats and vegetables only if the store
displays are clean and employees show awareness of appropriate food handling measures. If conditions are doubtful, go to another store.

Heightened awareness and caution is required during party food preparation. At home, use meat thermometers to assure thorough cooking. In addition, assure refrigerator temperatures of 40 degrees or lower, with a fridge thermometer. Guard against stacking fruits and vegetables on, or around, meatsin shopping carts, bags, or in the refrigerator. Wash all produce (vegetables and fruit) separately, dry completely, and refrigerate in clean and covered containers. Later, use only clean surfaces when preparing the pre-washed produce. Utensils must be thoroughly washed and dried completely. Chop or cut on a clean, “vegetables only” chopping board – one reserved for raw vegetable and fruit preparation.

In Hawai‘i, we have kuleana to provide take-out containers for guests to take food home from our parties. Disposable chopsticks and containers should be provided. Importantly, all foods need to be held at appropriate temperatures prior to packing up takeout containers. This requires covering and refrigerating perishables. Any food left on the buffet table should be tossed out.

Recent incidents in Honolulu restaurants have given us new awareness and firsthand experience with food borne illnesses. A recent CDC study reported that, in the U.S., salmonella and toxoplasma gondii together were responsible for more than half of lost-years-of-healthy-life due to food poisonings. Salmonella can be found in any food, but the toxoplasma parasite lives in muscles of animals. Salmonella has a larger number of victims and can cause long-term health complications. Recent multi-state outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning resulted from eating contaminated papaya, sprouts and cucumbers. CDC reports that the toxoplasma parasite “infects more than 60 million Americans” who have eaten undercooked, infected (contaminated) meat. Most individuals don’t get sick because they have healthy immune systems. However, anyone with a weakened immune system can suffer severe infections that can cause brain damage, blindness or worse. The effects of food poisoning may not end with the vomiting and diarrhea; for some, it’s the beginning of years of suffering.

We always have kuleana to control the foods that we allow into our bodies. Though nutritional aspects of food and eating are usual topics, it is critical to avoid food-borne illnesses with proper food-handling methods. Hawai‘i’s food traditions bring much happiness and joy to families and friends. Let’s work smart to keep it that way.