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Dec 21, 2012 9:42 AM by AP/CS

Official: Restaurant inspections will improve

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's Office of Public Health is going statewide with a plan that officials say cut past-due restaurant and retail food inspections by at least one-third during a nine-parish pilot that began in February.

Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane said Thursday that he's making other changes to fix problems noted in a highly critical state audit released last month.

"Everyone will be working with the same system. We'll have everyone's schedule and be linked statewide," he said. "We can see who is measuring up and who is not."

Auditors said OPH gave permits to restaurants that failed to correct violations found before the restaurants opened. The office didn't meet its own standards, such as inspecting restaurants four times a year, Lane said.

He said restaurants working with raw meat and produce will see inspectors four times a year.

A new scheduler will let inspectors easily see which inspections are needed first, and statewide standards are being implemented instead of regional control, he said. An audit released in November criticized DHH for not having standardized practices and fines.

The department also is streamlining the steps to make restaurants with problems meet the regulations - including bringing in the courts, so owners that don't pay fees can be held in contempt of court.

New programs start in January; Lane said he hopes to have them statewide by June and expects the department to clear its backlog of inspections by September.

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