Audit says Louisiana restaurant inspections and disclosure are a mess

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.

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.

The audit is available at:$FILE/0002DA0A.pdf