Is Czech food safe?

Photo: European Commission

In its assessment last November of the Czech Republic's preparedness for EU membership, the European Commission (EC) stressed that Prague was still lagging behind with regards to food safety and hygiene norms. Since then, Czech food processing companies and restaurants have worked hard at meeting EU requirements.

Hugo Roldan is Press Officer at the Agriculture Ministry:

Photo: European Commission
"In general terms, I could say that about sixty percent of our businesses already fulfil the hygiene requirements of the European Union. But this does not mean that the remaining forty percent does not fulfil the requirements at all. The remaining companies already operate according to Czech law and they are able to supply their products to the domestic network, which means that their products are also safe and healthy and they are still working in order to be allowed to supply their products to the whole common market after a time."

An EC inspection two months ago found that much of the investment of factories and restaurants in new equipment and technology had paid off - of the more than 100 facilities checked, only six had unacceptable hygiene levels. These statistics are confirmed by the Hygiene Authority for Moravia and Silesia. Controls of factories and restaurants in the region showed that some seven percent of the facilities checked do not respect food safety laws. According to Pavla Svrcinova from the regional hygiene authority, hygiene controls were carried out at 1,308 facilities in the first quarter of 2004. Five hundred places failed to respect the food safety law and 95 of them were guilty of serious violations. Mrs Svrcinova also says that many cannot afford to invest in new technology. They take the risk and wait until they are either caught by the authority, or even worse, a customer gets sick:

"The most common violation is the lack of necessary technical equipment. What's more, many do not separate individual places where different foods are processed. Often various kinds of food are processed at the same place, which can lead to contamination. The same goes for storing different foods - fresh meat cannot be in the same place as sweet desserts or fresh vegetables, for example, and they can only be stored or offered for a limited amount of time. Finally, there are temperature violations, where most offenders fail to keep food at the right temperature. All of these factors are common all around the country, the situation is the same everywhere."

EU legislation requires that regional hygiene authorities carry out hygiene controls at restaurants twice a year. In most cases, however, they are done only once a year in the Czech Republic. Most hygiene authorities say they lack the staff. The one in Moravia and Silesia for example, has only 22 workers responsible for the control of 10,000 facilities. The Czech Republic hopes to find a solution to this problem in the next two years as it has been granted a transition period for the complete harmonisation of hygiene parameters until 2006.