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Kitchen shut by state is back in operation

    The First Commercial Kitchen in Waipio Gentry has been approved to reopen by the state Department of Health.

A Waipio food manufacturing plant resumed production earlier this month, nearly four months after a shutdown for health violations and a massive recall of products.

The state Health Department inspected First Commercial Kitchen on May 10 and found it to be in full compliance with its orders. It issued a permit of reinstatement retroactive to that date.

“All products manufactured by First Commercial Kitchen after May 10, 2011 are considered safe and fit to consume,” the department said Thursday in a written statement.

For more than two years before the shutdown, First Commercial Kitchen had been repeatedly warned to take care of sanitation and food-handling violations.

But the department never fined the company or otherwise penalized it for the violations, which included a lack of proper ventilation and failure to produce records showing adequate safety testing.

Company owners who had their products manufactured there say they had no clue of any violations and were never informed. They say they may have been irreparably harmed by the recall and the lengthy shutdown.

Jaren Hancock, co-owner and president of Pacific Poultry, said his company lost $60,000 on its Huli-Huli Sauce alone, and says the Health Department acted unfairly.

“We’ve been off the shelves for four months,” he said. “We have lost an amazing amount of market share. … Will the stores give us the shelf space back? I have no Idea. … Hopefully, customers in Hawaii will still remember and want their Huli-Huli Sauce.”

First Commercial was used by numerous businesses to produce their recipes for sauces, dressings and other food products, and was considered “the only game in town” by many, including Hancock.

Peter Kam, owner of First Commercial Kitchen, could not be reached for comment Thursday after the Health Department responded to a Star-Advertiser query on the company’s status.

The Health Department shut down the plant Jan. 24, and on Jan. 25 recalled all of about 150 products that had been produced there at one time or another. The scattershot approach was taken because the company failed to provide a current list of products, the department said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a recall of Ohana Flavors Black Bean Sauce and Barb’s Black Bean Sauce after testing in January found they failed to meet acidity and water activity levels, indicators of whether conditions are ripe for botulism growth.

The Health Department allowed companies to have their products tested, and if they met its criteria, they were removed from the recall list.

Steve Geimer, owner of Arturo’s Hot Flavors of Hawaii, said he lost about $30,000 in ingredients and inventory in hot sauces and fresh salsas even though they were taken off the recall list. Stores weren’t willing to put the products back on their shelves, he said.

He’s been trying to find another plant to produce his products but has so far failed.

“To restart it, it’s going to take a major infusion of cash,” he said. “Everything’s been off the shelves for months. Why would they put us back in?”

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