EC inspectors look into hygiene norms at restaurants and food processing plants

A team of inspectors from the European Commission have arrived in the Czech Republic to examine hygiene standards in food processing plants and restaurants ahead of the country's entry into the EU in May. Daniela Lazarova has been following the story and joins me now in the studio. Daniela is this the crucial moment for Czech restaurants and processing plants - will this visit decide their future?

Well, no, that's actually a task for the Czech hygiene authorities and the painful decisions have already been made: over 500 plants have already been closed down for failing to meet the EU's food safety and hygiene standards. And those are plants which were dismally behind and which didn't stand a chance of meeting the mentioned criteria. Then there were food processing plants and restaurants which had only a short way to go towards meeting those norms and they were given an extra few weeks to fulfil them. So basically, the EU inspectors are here to see how that process is coming along.

What does all this involve?

Well it involves a great deal - in restaurants -they will obviously be checking out hygiene standards in the kitchen, how food is prepared, how it stored etc. We all know that in some cases -in the lower category restaurants - some dishes are served hours after they are cooked -without being frozen -things like goulash for instance. So all these proprietors will have to accept the new norm that all cooked food must either be deep frozen or anything not consumed within three hours must be thrown out. So, things like that ... but of course it also involves checking out hygiene conditions in food processing plants, what goes on the labels, veterinary controls in connection with BSE and many others.

The inspectors will basically be checking out how the Czech Hygiene Office and Veterinary Institute have done their work and they're obviously going to visit those places which have been given a few more weeks to meet EU norms -just to make sure that no producer or restaurant owner who is inadequate slips through the net.

I can imagine the preparations being made for their visit - is it possible for restaurant owners to put on a good show while they are here and then fall back into old habits ?

Well, not really, these strict EU norms usually require considerable investments and possibly changes in production mode so once the money is invested and it's up and running it will be maintained. Also, once we are in the EU inspections will be more frequent and fines will be higher so both producers and restaurant owners will be kept on their toes. It is definitely a hectic time for them now.