Dangerous delis

Chlebíčky

There's not much in the way of consumer protection in the Czech Republic and believe me that thirteen years after the fall of communism the consumer still needs a lot of protection. Most of us are still so impressed by the incredible variety of goods available that we are happy to overlook a buy that does not quite meet our expectations.

There's not much in the way of consumer protection in the Czech Republic and believe me that thirteen years after the fall of communism the consumer still needs a lot of protection. Most of us are still so impressed by the incredible variety of goods available that we are happy to overlook a buy that does not quite meet our expectations.

So those shoes came apart much too soon, but they were the latest fashion in Paris this spring. Unless it is electronics most people don't bother to return goods and demand a refund. Certainly very few people would bother to go back to a shop and return a spoilt food item - and I think that quite a few shops and supermarkets take advantage of this fact. With food you can't be absolutely sure that you are getting fresh and bacteria free products. And even if you do suffer the consequences - there's only a vague suspicion as to what might have caused the problem.

A recent inspection in 136 delicatessens and pastry shops, initiated by a leading Czech newspaper, produced alarming results. A full third of the popular open faced sandwiches, which many Czechs lunch on, were found to contain high levels of bacteria, as did a third of all tested cakes, salads and spreads. Sixteen percent of the food was labelled dangerous to public health. All things that we've been buying and consuming daily. Challenged with the outcome of this inspection the chief hygiene officer admitted that the news was "alarming". "This news is serious enough to start a health observation of these establishments" he told the media. Well, speaking for myself I can't say that I am impressed.

Where was the National Hygiene Office with all its inspectors while we were -and still are -eating food dangerous to public health. Why wasn't this uncovered long ago at the initiative of this office rather than a newspaper and why weren't the places which sell us such food closed down? Officials said that the bacteria risks could be reduced if deli counters stored their food at lower temperatures. A simple enough measure -but one that will only be fully implemented under pressure from the European Union. Luckily that's just a few months away and I guess I can stay away from my favourite open faced sandwiches until May of next year. But I must say that it's a disappointment to me that the Czech authorities have failed in so basic a responsibility and that we have to rely on action from Brussels.