New Orleans, La. - A relatively small fee is expected to make a big difference in the safety of our food. Restaurants are paying about $50 more a year in permits, and the money will go to more inspectors of food establishments.
Inspectors can walk into a restaurant at any time to do a surprise 45-minute check of everything from the cleaning stations to the temperature of the food. Critical violations mean customers can be more at risk for food-borne illnesses.
Click here to type in the name of any establishment and see its inspection results.
A legislative audit found that from 2009-2011, inspectors didn't check and see if those critical violations had been corrected 32 percent of the time.
The audit also found that 81 percent of high-risk food establishments weren't inspected as often as they're supposed to be. That's more than 5,800 places statewide.
"What often comes up a lot is, 'Do you have enough inspectors?' And the answer is absolutely yes," said J.T. Lane, assistant secretary for public health in Louisiana's Department of Heath and Hospitals.
Inspectors check about five establishments a day. The problem is, at that rate, the nine Orleans Parish sanitarians, for example, can't check the more than 1,300 restaurants in the city even once a year, let alone the required four times annually for high-risk places.
"We want to be partners in helping them do their jobs better," said Lane.
It's why the state is using the money collected from higher permit fees to make the inspections more efficient. The first step is to create a simpler way for inspectors to input data.
"Right now, our health inspectors across the state have to use about 10 to 12 different programs to do their jobs," said Lane.
That'll be combined into just one program. There will be an overhaul of the technology along with a restructuring of the system.
"We realigned the work force to make sure that everyone had the right proportion of inspectors," said Lane.
Inspectors can now work across parish lines if needed. Also, they are no longer in charge of collecting the permit fees. Those can now be paid online to the department directly.
It gives the inspectors more time to check whether the restaurants you walk into are safe.
The department estimates that an inspection costs a total of $157. Restaurants were only paying $100 in permit fees before they were raised to $150 on August 1, 2013.