NEW ORLEANS -- When it comes to inspecting Louisiana's restaurants, the state's inspection process stinks, according to a report released on Monday by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
In a state where people love their food, eating out is part of that tradition, especially in New Orleans. However, throw in a bad dining experience and that can make anyone's stomach turn.
"I've had an experience where I've actually had pests in my plate, and that's at good restaurants," said Dierdra LeDuff. "You really need to be cautious."
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Public Health is supposed to be your watchdog when it comes to inspecting retail food establishments.
However, a new audit report shows that OPH didn't always conduct the required number of inspections at high-risk establishments and that it didn't return to reinspect critical violations.
The report also says OPH rarely cracked down on violators.
"We looked at a period of three years and during that time OPH had identified 450,000 violations. They only issued four compliance orders and only issued two penalties," said Nicole Edmonson, director of Performance Audit Services for the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
Louisiana's Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said that the most alarming part of the report his office issued is that a third of violators were repeat critical violators.
"You can have a restaurant that looks pristine in the front and the kitchen can be a mess," said Dr. Brobson Lutz, who isn't surprised by the report and blames state cutbacks.
"Food inspection has taken tremendous hits over the years, and obviously the number of inspectors needed for this state just aren't there," Lutz said.
"We see we have a lot of improvements to make in our process," said Secretary Bruce Greenstein, head of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He said change is underway.
"We are already taking what was a cumbersome 19-step process to issue a penalty and we're going to be streamlining that over the next year," said Secretary Greenstein.
As one out-of-towner spends time with family in the French Quarter Monday night, LeDuff says she will now be extra careful when it comes to her next restaurant stop.
"It's something to be a of concern. We have children and it's important for us. You can catch something today and be in the hospital tomorrow," said LeDuff.
To track down your favorite restaurant's inspection records, DHH has a website where you can look up their last three inspections. Click here for details.