Editorial: Office of Public Health stepping up inspections

The state agency responsible for ensuring food safety in Louisiana has taken steps to improve and intensify its inspection procedures.

The upgrades are in response to a critical audit of the Office of Public Health’s food inspection program that was made a

year ago.

The Louisiana State Auditor’s

report complained that the Public Health office, which is under the

auspices of the state Department

of Health and Hospitals, had been lax in issuing penalties for

violations of food safety regulations.

The audit found that the Public

Health office had issued only four compliance orders from 2009-2011,

even though it had cited

nearly 450,000 violations. The audit also found that although

about one-third of the restaurants and businesses that were

cited were repeat offenders, the Public Health office had

‘‘routinely’’ failed to assess any penalties or other consequences

for repeat violators.

The criticism resulted in changes. DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert said it led to a complete reform of the Public Health office’s

system.

Inspections increased by 60 percent and a better system for noting violations, compliance and corrective action was put in

place.

In addition, the results of the inspections are being posted on DHH’s website, EatSafe.La.gov .

‘‘We have not just increased inspections, but the right kind of increased inspections,’’ said J.T. Lane, the head of the

Office of Public Health. ‘‘We are getting to those that have a higher risk of potential food-borne illnesses.

All food establishments are

inspected once a year. Those that deal with raw meat and fresh food and

vegetables are being inspected

four times a year, according to Lane.

Unsanitary procedures and

conditions in food establishments can lead to serious illness and even

occasional death from unsuspecting

consumers.

Hence, inspection by state health

sanitarians are necessary to ensure that restaurants and other food

establishments are operating

in a manner that does not bring misery to consumers. The increased

vigilance and other improvements are vital to public confidence

in the Office of Public Health to correct unsanitary conditions in

restaurants and other food establishments.

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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, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.