In city's across America, restaurants that commit major health code violations are big news, but in New Orleans, this is not the case and likely won't be anytime soon. It's not that the city isn't home to some major health code violators. It's just that Louisiana's restaurant inspection process is pretty broken.
In late 2012, after a state audit deemed Louisiana's restaurant inspections 'disorganized and dangerous,' the program was overhauled. Almost four years later, Todd Price and Richard Webster now report that local restaurant owners haven't seen much in the way of change and looming state budget cuts may strip the Department of Health in the near future.
That being said, there have been some improvements, according to director of the state sanitarian services Tenney Sibley:
- Restaurants are required to be inspected four times a year, which they reportedly have been 100% of the time since 2013, as opposed to the frightening days of 2009-2012 when a whopping 81% of restaurant inspections apparently never happened (and restaurants with critical violations only got re-inspected 32 percent of the time).
- Sanitarians are now sent all over the state as to just working regionally and making up their own schedules.
- There are now more sanitarians working in New Orleans, and they must follow an electronic scheduling system that tells them when a restaurant needs to be inspected.
- Restaurants must now fix critical issues immediately and in the presence of a sanitarian.
- An 'electronic field inspection system' is reportedly in the works for the state, so "22 separate systems that are currently used for inspections" can be hauled out of the Stone Age and saved in a single database.
- 109 compliance orders ("which force restaurants to address critical issues under threat of penalties or closure") have been issued since 2013. From 2009-2011, the state only issued four.
All of these improvements are now at risk if a proposed state budget cut passes, which would decrease the number of sanitarians from 145 to 129 (they also inspect hospitals, nursing homes and more, so will no doubt be overburdened), and cause an estimated 26% reduction in food inspections.
And judging by this list of the top ten New Orleans restaurants with the worst health code violations, a reduction in inspections is not what the city needs right now.