Audit: Restaurant inspection, safety process flawed

To see the rest of the report, go to$FILE/0002DA0A.pdf
To see the rest of the report, go to$FILE/0002DA0A.pdf

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's office found major flaws in the enforcement that's meant to protect you and ensure the safety of food.

The man over the inspection and safety program, Department of Health and Hospital secretary Bruce Greenstein, said he specifically asked the audit be conducted saying he realized the process had flaws with room for improvement.

The list said the Office of Public Health issued permits to restaurants that still had not corrected their previous violations. Of even more concern, 7,252 restaurants statewide are listed as high-risk establishments meaning they are supposed to be inspected more often, four times a year, but this shows only about a fourth of them were checked on as required.

Other eateries, not listed as at risk, but having critical violations should have been given more attention and re-inspected more frequently, but were not. Plus, OPH rarely enforced actions due to violations.

"We looked at a period of three years and during that time, OPH had identified 450,000 violations. They only issued four compliance letters as a result of those violations and of those compliance letters, they only issued two penalties. That's a total of $1,300, and OPH never even collected the $1,300 they assessed in penalties," said Director of Performance Audit Services Nicole Edmonson.

OPH falls under the Department of Health and Hospitals. Last year in August, DHH's Greenstein launched a web site: Eat Safe Louisiana. It's meant for you to check an eatery's violations, if any, food safety, sanitation and more at the click of a mouse. Edmonson said all the results have not been fully disclosed to the public.

"You look at a particular establishment that we looked at, and you pull up the inspection results. It'll look like all they've had in the last three inspections is 29 violations when the big picture is over the last three years, they've had well over 300 violations," said Edmonson.

"We don't know if there's a whole lot of value to go back further, and what was more important to us was that as you launch the web site, so you're able to do a quick search and find the restaurant you want more quickly," said Greenstein.

Along with inspections, Greenstein said OPH is also responsible for keeping people healthy and safe, pointing out they have one of the best track records in the country for protecting against foodborne illnesses.

"Only 11 cases reported last year. We were able to trace the pathogens of 10 of the 11," said Greenstein. "If you have been eating there all along and you haven't gotten sick, that's your own track record. Individuals should always be looking around and making observations for themselves."

Greenstein said changes are coming including fine tuning the process for enforcing penalties. Plus, he said they are now reorganizing to make sure there are an even number of inspectors in every part in the state.

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