GUAM HEALTH RULES TOUGH ON FOOD INDUSTRY

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 10) - Drinks no longer come with ice and in super-size cups at many fast-food places. Some convenience stores no longer serve brewed coffee. Some restaurants now serve dinner on Styrofoam plates.

Guam's problems with unreliable water service and contaminated water supply have taken away some conveniences for island consumers.

And food-service businesses that invested as much as tens of thousands of dollars each in water purification systems just several months ago now face added costs stemming from another layer of government recommendations.

A Dec. 10, 2002, guideline signed by then-Director Dennis Rodriguez of the public health department says all restaurants, caterers, food booths, stores, warehouses and cold storage facilities that use tap water for cooking or preparing food must follow either requirement:

- Boil water vigorously for one minute; or

- Inject one tablespoon of chlorine for every five gallons of water.

It won't be that simple for fast-food chains and restaurants that use automated machines for preparing food and beverage.

At Taco Bell, for example, automated machines are hooked up with pipes that feed purified water from an ultraviolet purification system, so boiling water isn't practical, said Damien Fallon, general manager of Pacific Ventures Inc., which owns and operates the Taco Bell franchise on Guam.

Now that restaurants are being required to inject chlorine even if they have water purification systems in place, a restaurant such as Taco Bell faces additional costs for such things as a sizable water tank, installation costs of a water tank, a chlorine injection system and backup power supply for the chlorine injection system, Fallon said.

And if the roof is the only place to put the water tank, more costs will pile up, including meeting structural safety requirements and making the tank typhoon-proof, he said.

David Tydingco, president of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, said affected island businesses are expressing what he called ''great concern.''

He's expected to meet today with the new acting director of Public Health, Peter John Camacho, to further discuss the industry's concerns.

Tydingco said convenience stores and fuel service stations are affected, and some service stations no longer can serve coffee.

Fallon said restaurants are being required to use chlorination even if they have purification systems because island electricity can fluctuate and cause ultraviolet systems to malfunction.

Fallon isn't questioning the government's safety precautions; he said having businesses pay for what is essentially a government failure to provide safe water supply is what he's questioning.

Fallon said hundreds of businesses are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to address water safety concerns when the fix needs to be done by Guam Waterworks Authority, which needs to adequately chlorinate water at the wells and keep water pumps running.

The cost to businesses isn't limited to having to buy equipment.

Many restaurants now serve only canned and bottled beverages, which are more costly than having to prepare beverage concentrates into drinks that are dispensed from machines and into small to super-size cups.

For a small business such as Isabel's Cafe Nouveau in Mangilao, the island's water problems have meant additional costs, for example, for preparing smoothies.

That's because ice has become expensive, said Anilita Basto-Gurwell, who co-owns the cafe with husband Daniel Gurwell.

Without reliable water supply, the cafe also has been using paper products, she said.

Basto-Gurwell said she and her husband also spend extra time at night filling water containers and going to her parents' home to wash things they couldn't wash at the cafe when there's no running water.

But despite the challenges, Basto-Gurwell said the café has been able to get by.

And instead of venting her frustration, she said she's been praying for reliable and safe water.

"It has given us a lot of experience weathering the difficult times so when better times come along, it's going to be very nice," Basto-Gurwell said.

Guam's water woes have caught the attention of a national industry publication, Chain Leader, which explores issues in the food-service industry.

In a November story featuring the job challenges of Claire H. Barbowski, president of McDonald's Asia/Pacific, the publication described McDonald's of Guam's costs in dealing with the water quality problems on island.

McDonald's of Guam has installed ultraviolet water purification systems at its eight restaurants, at a price tag of $5,000 for each restaurant, according to Pacific Daily News files.

Fallon said having to deal with government failure to provide safe and reliable utility services has made Guam's business environment tougher.

"It's becoming a nonbusiness-friendly island -- it really is," Fallon said.

January 10, 2003

Pacific Daily News, www.guampdn.com/ 

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