BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's regulators of food safety fail to ensure restaurants and other retail food establishments are complying with health standards and allow violators of safety requirements to continue operations, according to a new audit released Monday.
The Office of Public Health issued permits to restaurants that didn't correct past violations, rarely assesses penalties to violators of safety regulations and doesn't meet its own inspection standards, the review by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office says.
Of nearly 450,000 violations over three years reviewed by auditors, the Office of Public Health levied penalties on two establishments — and didn't collect any of the $1,300 in penalties assessed.
The agency also doesn't have standardized criteria for determining when fines should be issued and hasn't routinely hit repeat violators with penalties or other consequences, according to the audit.
"Overall, OPH's permitting, inspection and enforcement processes need improvement to ensure the safety of food served in retailed food establishments," the audit from Purpera's office says.
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who oversees the agency deemed deficient in the performance review, said his department is working to strengthen inspections and enforcement. He agreed with most of the audit's recommendations for improving food safety regulation.
Some restaurants found to have violations of health and safety regulations in pre-opening inspections were issued permits to operate despite the violations. Thirty-two percent of establishments deemed to have at least one "critical" violation weren't re-inspected to make sure the problems were corrected, the audit says. Violations deemed to be critical include chemical contamination, sewage backup and improper food storage.
"Since critical violations may directly impact food safety if left uncorrected, conducting re-inspections is important to protecting public health," the legislative auditor's analysis says.
The public health office adopted a model for inspection frequency based partly on federal recommendations, but didn't follow its own standards.
The audit says more than 5,800 "high-risk establishments," 81 percent of the mostly full-service restaurants, weren't inspected four times a year as the model requires. On average, instead they were visited twice a year during the three-year period reviewed.
Meanwhile, a state-run website that's supposed to give people an idea of how restaurants are performing in their sanitary inspections doesn't have complete results available to the public, the review says.
Purpera's office recommended a reorganization of the $11 million-a-year food inspection program, an increase in permitting fees and an upgrade to its data collection efforts.
In a written response, Greenstein said the public health office will stop issuing permits to restaurants with uncorrected critical violations, will prioritize re-inspections of safety code violators and will strengthen assessment of penalties when establishments don't comply with regulations. He also said the agency will review its entire fee structure to determine if changes should be recommended to lawmakers.
"This report will assist us in making necessary changes to this program and to further ensure that retail food establishments are meeting the required standards in order to protect the health and well-being of the residents and visitors of Louisiana," Greenstein wrote.
The audit looked at inspections and enforcement of food safety regulations for restaurants and kitchens at places like nursing homes, but not at concession stands, bars and other establishments that sell food.
The audit is available at: http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/0/7A1222489BEAFEF886257ABC005CCB0B/$FILE/0002DA0A.pdf
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
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The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
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The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
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The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
Saluting the red, white and blue — let freedom ring
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Feel the spectrum
Unless you work for an energy company, specific decisions related to the economics, risk, etc. are not conveyed to the public. They are a closely guarded secret.
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