BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - More than 150 Louisiana restaurants have been cited for not disclosing to customers they were selling imported rather than domestic seafood.
The citations from the Louisiana Department of Health stem from a new law requiring food establishments to post information about imported crawfish or shrimp on menus. If they don't use menus, they have to post signs at their main entrances.
The Advocate reports half the violations identified by the health department were found at restaurants across southeastern Louisiana from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. More than a dozen restaurants in the Lake Charles area were cited. Other cities with violators included Bossier City and Shreveport.
Lawmakers unanimously backed the disclosure requirement earlier this year. No fines are associated with the citations.
The Louisiana Department of Health conducted more than 3,200 routine inspections of full-service restaurants between Sept. 1 and Sept. 27, with inspectors also on the lookout for violations of the seafood disclosure law that went into effect Sept. 1. The agency didn't have information on how many of the 3,200 restaurants serve shrimp and crawfish and were in compliance, but said 154 were cited for violations.
Some restaurant owners say the seasonal availability of Gulf-caught shrimp and Louisiana crawfish causes them to bounce between using domestic and imported products, making it difficult to track those changes on menus.
One restaurant said it was using Louisiana crawfish in meals but got cited because it had a package of Chinese crawfish in the freezer as a back-up against running out, while another said a supplier sent it Chinese crawfish by mistake. Still another restaurant said it ran into confusion as to whether domestic shrimp sent overseas to be processed is then considered imported.
Mason's Grill in Baton Rouge switches between imported and domestic crawfish through the year depending on availability, owner Mike Alfandre said. The restaurant was among those cited for not disclosing imported shrimp and crawfish on its menu.
"At the time of the inspection, I had Louisiana crawfish that was being used - and a closed case of Chinese crawfish because domestic was not available when I placed the order so they sent me the Chinese kind," Alfrandre said. "I was holding on to the Chinese crawfish in case I ran out and needed something," he said.
Alfandre said he didn't put a temporary sticker on his menu to notify customers because "it looks tacky" and the restaurant had its menu done recently, costing thousands of dollars.
Substituting Chinese crawfish in a pinch is not something Michael Boudreaux, a top executive at Adrian's, a Cajun restaurant in Baton Rouge, said he would do. But the restaurant has relied on foreign shrimp.
"I always serve Louisiana crawfish; I won't serve anything else. If they don't have it, we'll take it off the menu," Boudreaux said.
But he said there isn't a major taste difference between domestic and imported shrimp. Adrian's was cited for not labeling imported shrimp on its menu Sept. 12, but will be updating menus soon, he said.
"I wish we could sell Louisiana seafood all the time, but it's not always available. There's too much demand and there's not enough of it," he said.
Health inspections can be searched by food establishment, not type of violation, on the state's website.