Editorial: Progress for restaurants, people with new inspections

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.

• • •

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.