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BATON ROUGE A Louisiana Legislative Audit is critical of the Office of Public Health's oversight of restaurant safety, in particular, food safety at restaurants across Louisiana.

The audit found the Office of Public Health lacking and needing vast improvement in permitting, inspection and enforcement of food safety practices at state restaurants. (See audit)

'OPH issued permits to some retail food establishments with uncorrected violations,' said the audit. 'Specifically, from fiscal year (FY) 2009 to FY 2011, OPH issued permits to four (13%) out of 30 establishments with critical violations and 40 (33%) of 122 establishments with non-critical violations that were identified during their pre-opening inspections.'

A lack of inspections and follow-up inspections at high-risk establishments was also discovered in the audit, as the Office of Public Health failed to conduct 'inspections on 5,849 (81%) of 7,252 high-risk retail food establishments four times per year in accordance with its risk model. In addition, it did not conduct 32% of required re-inspections to ensure critical violations were corrected,' said the audit.

A lack of enforcement, according to the audit, also didn't coerce restaurant to comply with regulation. 'Of the nearly 450,000 violations identified from FY 2009 to FY 2011, OPH issued only four compliance orders to retail food establishments and assessed penalties totaling approximately $1,300 for two of these compliance orders. However, OPH did not collect any of the penalties it assessed,' said the audit. Thirty-three percent of food establishments had at least one repeat critical violation from 2010 to 2011.

A lack of transparency was also found in the audit. Over 3,000 inspections were not uploaded to the state's website which has the inspections, and the website didn't have inspection results for each establishments.

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