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DOH cracks down once again, shuts down 24-hour store in Fagaalu

The 24-hour Gold Conda Store in Fagaalu was shut down by DOH inspectors last week, for various reasons, including unsanitary conditions and poor ventilation.[photo: BC]

The Department of Health's Environmental Division has shut down Gold Conda Store in Fagaalu, after inspectors discovered major health violations at the establishment last week.

A 'Public Notice' taped on the store's main entrance reads: "As of 10/03/2017 by order of the Department of Health, business is CLOSED until further notice."

Samoa News sought an explanation over the weekend from DOH Chief Compliance Officer, Onosa'i Aulava who departed the territory for Manu'a yesterday.

According to Aulava, the surprise visit was made after their office received numerous complaints about the quality of food being sold at the store, and the overall condition of the establishment.

He said Gold Conda is the only 24-hour store in the area and it is frequented by people not only during regular business hours, but especially late at night and during the wee hours of the morning by local folks seeking medical assistance or visiting loved ones at the LBJ Medical Center, and those who work the graveyard shift.

Gold Conda not only sells groceries, it also has a fast food section and sells ready-to-eat items like sandwiches, sushi, hot dogs, etc.

"One of the biggest concerns we have, is the fact that some of these food items are being bought and taken to the hospital where caretakers and staff are consuming them," Aulava said.

According to him, the inspection revealed a number of health violations, including unsanitary conditions in both the front end and the storage room.

When asked for details, Aulava said the storage room is full to maximum capacity, and is not well organized. While he understands that businesses always try to keep a huge inventory so the supply doesn't run out, he said he was overwhelmed with the number of boxes and stock scattered all over the place, and not stacked properly.

And while that may not be a concern for many, he said the end result is canned food getting rusty and buried in dust.

He said the items are not yet expired - according to the labels - but because they are not well organized, things are being piled one on top of another and this has caused some canned goods to appear old and damaged.

Referring to the hot food items being sold next to the front counter, Aulava said that under federal regulations, there is a two-hour window for items to be out in the open, to maintain freshness and quality.

"Certain food items should not be exposed and left out at room temperature," he said. "They need to be in a glass display shelf set to a certain temperature to keep it fresh, safe, and away from dust and dirt."

Aulava said one of the biggest problems they encounter at establishments such as Gold Conda, is the language barrier, as none of the workers understand or speak fluent English.

He indicated that the store manager - who understands English - arrived in the territory last week (after the store was shut down by DOH) and he has been briefed about the situation.

Aulava said he and his team conducted a follow-up visit last Friday an "there is tremendous improvement." He said that while 'big changes' have been made, the store was still not given the green light to re-open, despite pleas from the manager to lift the notice because of the busy White Sunday weekend.

"There are still some things that needed to be addressed and that's why I didn't grant the request to re-open the store last Friday," Aulava told Samoa News. "It's a matter of protecting the people of American Samoa."

He said that since he will be in Manu'a until later this week, he has briefed one of his inspectors about the situation, and a follow-up visit will be carried out today. "If everything we noted has been addressed, there's no reason why Gold Conda shouldn't re-open for business today," he said.

"Our job is to raise the standards of food safety in American Samoa, by letting business owners and operators know what needs to be done," Aulava continued.

He said surprise visits will be carried out throughout the remainder of the year, and it has been tough for them, trying to haggle their schedule, as DOH employees are currently occupied with outreach efforts dealing with the dengue fever outbreak.

DOH inspections are random. Business owners are urged to keep their establishments clean and up to par, so there is no disruption in operations.