EatSafe website bringing public inspections online

by Heather Miller

The state Department of Health and Hospitals' website launching this week follows a lengthy investigation by The Daily Advertiser on the not-so-open state of restaurant inspections.

The state Office of Public Health this week will begin posting online certain portions of inspection reports for restaurants, bars and residential and day-care centers.

The website, according to The Advocate, will allow the public to see specific "critical" and "noncritical" public health violations found in restaurants - but the data will not be posted until seven days after an inspection takes place.

Also included in the database will be info on 8,800 stores, 4,700 bars, 2,500 day-care and residential facilities, and others. Not included, though, will be overall number or letter grades of the businesses, a practice DHH tried in 2005 and later abandoned:

The agency is responsible for licensing and permitting nearly 32,000 retail food establishments through its food safety certification program. Restaurants account for 50 percent of the total.

Other parts of the site would provide the public with food safety information, such as tips for: tailgating parties, preparing a child's school lunch, and alerts when there are food-related scares.

State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said people should have convenient access to public records, and today's technology allows that to happen, rather than making people wade through reams of paper.

The website announcement follows an investigation by The Daily Advertiser that maintains the website was launched only after the daily's extensive probe of inspections. Its report finds that Louisiana is one of only 10 states that doesn't post inspections online, and says that even after the info is posted publicly, it won't include the full reports:

The DHH has gone with a new, objective approach to inspections, simply listing restaurants' critical and non-critical violations. "There's no way to say what the best restaurant is in the government's point of view," Greenstein said.

Critical violations, or immediate health hazards, are listed first. These violations might have to do with cross-contamination of raw and cooked food, a rodent or insect problem or improper food temperatures.

Non-critical violations are listed next. These violations could become critical if not repaired. These violations include dirty utensils, improper food storage and unclean floors.

Read more here and here.