Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 8:18 PM
The state Office of Public Health promises to toughen up its restaurant inspections, but new measures will be implemented only by the spoonful in 2013.
Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane said last week the department has worked for a year developing and testing new measures that will be standardized and enforced beginning Jan. 1. The department’s plan is fourfold, according to the OPH website:
• Implement new management tools.
• Centralize and standardize the inspection process.
• Add new standards to be measured on employee evaluations.
• Make it easier to enforce compliance by the restaurants.
“We are deeply committed to the safety and health of some of state’s most valued treasures, our people and our restaurants and food establishments,” Lane said in a prepared statement. “Restaurants provide great food and jobs in our communities, and the best way for us to support both consumers and establishments is to ensure they are offering a safe bite to eat.”
Lane is on target: Among many cultural treasures in Louisiana is our state’s food. That’s the new “talk.” Here’s the old “walk,” according to a story on NOLA.com, reported last week: Between 2009 and 2011, OPH failed to make the four inspections mandated annually at four-fifths of selected restaurants.
That’s an alarming scorecard, especially when one considers that Lane said no additional inspectors are needed, which means manpower was sufficient all along. It’s alarming, too, when one considers that much of our state’s tourism business centers around our food.
Here’s how lax the state has been in overseeing health conditions in restaurants: NOLA.com reported that in New Orleans, Commander’s Palace, Emeril’s, Gautreau’s and Domenica, all premier restaurants, were not inspected in 2012.
OPH’s fledgling efforts to improve state inspections should be noted, but not yet applauded. Before we applaud, we should first know that restaurants have been adequately inspected in 2013. Much of the first quarter will involve training and rolling out the new regs; that doesn’t leave a full year to make all the mandated inspections.
Second, the state would do well to enable consumers to be fully aware of inspection results. Other states — Mississippi and Georgia spring to mind, in the Deep South — empower consumers by fully informing them of how restaurants measure up when it comes to meeting important health standards. Go online to sample how other states report back to the consumers, then sample Louisiana’s Office of Public Health site to compare.
Louisianians should be encouraged that our health officials have made a new start in drawing up and enforcing standards in the restaurants. More important still is ensuring that this new start is an effective start, one that ultimately will serve consumers and restaurants both. We’re waiting.
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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.