Food reviews are a dime a dozen, but what if you want to know how sanitary that neighborhood restaurant is? Thanks to a new Web tool from the Department of Health and Hospitals, that information is just a mouse click away.
The Sanitarian Services program within the LDH Office of Public Health has created a Web site that allows consumers to check recent inspection results of any restaurant in the state.
“This is a big step in our effort to make information from our department more accessible to the public,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “This is something people have wanted for a long time, something our sanitarian staff has devoted much time to accomplishing and something we are very proud to be announcing. We hope this innovative step is the start of greater accessibility to public health information.”
When logging onto the page, found at http://www.oph.dhh.louisiana.gov/, anyone interested can search for restaurants by establishment name, address, parish or city. This makes it possible to look up the status of one particular restaurant or to search for all restaurants in a particular area to see which one rated the best. The site also has a feature that allows users to provide feedback.
Once you have looked up a particular restaurant, a chart will appear listing the restaurant, its address, previous inspection results and then its current inspection status. The current status will be depicted with pelican icons used to assign ratings to a restaurant. The ratings range from five pelicans (Superior) to one pelican (Regulatory Action). A chart of the different ratings is listed below.
The online inspection reports are made possible through new reporting devices all LDH sanitarians began using last year. These new devices, handheld PC tablets, allow sanitarians to record and upload information electronically in a shorter time frame. Previously, sanitarians had many paper forms to fill out after completing an inspection. The new electronic forms contain lists of all possible sanitary code violations, which a sanitarian can check off during an inspection.
Health officials and restaurant industry representatives agree that accessible information such as this Web site will lead to increased attention to food safety issues.
“Louisiana is rightly known for its unique culture of food,” said Louisiana Restaurant Association Chief Executive Officer Jim Funk. “Every day our restaurants provide a distinctive dining experience for locals and visitors alike. Our restaurants and our association are also fully committed to enhancing food safety.
We believe there can be no compromise on food safety, and we believe this website will demonstrate our industry’s commitment to safe food.”
Dr. Cerise pointed to a recent study conducted by the health department in Los Angeles that credits its restaurant-grading system with a 13 percent decrease in food-borne diseases.
“With this new Web site, we expect two immediate benefits,” he said. “First, because the public will have easy access to inspection results, restaurants will have a heightened incentive to maintain high sanitary standards at all times. Better hygiene in restaurants will mean fewer food-related illnesses. Also, establishments that continue to have critical food safety violations problems will quickly lose customers.”
In the next few weeks, LDH will add links to its Web site that provide details about the annual health and safety surveys of nursing homes and home health agencies.
Dr. Cerise said this is all in an effort to make more information easily available to the public.
“Whether it’s sanitary inspections or surveys of health care providers, the public has shown an interest in knowing more about the regulatory process. As agencies such as ours embrace technology and use databases to compile and store information, it makes sense to make put this information out there on the Web,” he said. “Using our Internet site, our goal is to translate the technical data and regulatory information found in an actual survey or inspection to information that is easy-to-use and understandable by the general public.”
Cerise added that full and complete inspection reports can be obtained at local parish health units.
The LDH ratings are based on the restaurant’s most recent inspection and the number of critical (i.e. food temperature violations, poor personal hygiene, cross-contamination of food) and noncritical (i.e. dirty floors, uncovered garbage containers, and improperly stored food) violations noticed during inspection.
1. Superior (5 pelican icons) --- No critical violations and fewer than five noncritical violations cited.
2. Excellent (4 pelican icons) --- Critical violations were noted but corrected during inspection; more than five noncritical violations were noticed during inspection but were corrected during the inspection.
3. Good (3 pelicans) --- Five or less critical violations noted; reinspection performed to ensure compliance.
4. Poor (2 pelicans) --- Six or more critical violations noted; reinspection performed to ensure compliance.
5. Regulatory Action (1 pelican) --- Compliance action is being pursued OR imminent health hazard exists.