The ultimate diet - how Czech food inspectors are helping me lose some weight

The unusual number of serious health violations at Czech supermarkets and hypermarkets that the food inspection authority has uncovered in the last few weeks has angered the nation. I dare say, a number of grossed-out Czechs have actually started changing their diet.

Why exactly? Two branches of the Hypernova chain have been secretly pushing back the expiry dates of products. Another supermarket was closed down after an inspection team found mice droppings on food shelves and rodents running around the storage rooms. But what tops that, in my mind, is what food inspectors recently discovered at a Julius Meinl store. Its staff was "re-processing" bad meat and cheese and re-selling it as fresh. To be more specific, they simply washed or cut off the green and mouldy parts and put the rest back on the shelves - repackaged with a later expiry date. If the food was so old that it could not be 'camouflaged', it was minced and put into sausages!

Naturally, this has caused Czechs to panic and the number of complaints of unhygienic supermarkets to the food inspection authority has increased tenfold. Local butchers and bakeries are in their heydays as numerous people no longer trust the supermarkets and now go to the local grocery store around the corner. I don't know whether there's a link but as I rushed to work this morning, I had to cross to the other side of the road as the line in front of the butcher's reached out onto the street and the crowd of people took up all the space on the sidewalk. But can we trust the local grocery store? Afterall, we don't know what's been going on behind their closed doors? And let's not forget the news of a man who recently found a mouse baked inside a loaf of bread that he bought at his local bakery!

People now spend much more time inspecting the quality of what they buy and some have even decided to limit the amount of meat they consume to a minimum. I recently heard a group of teenagers in a tram talking about the disgusting pictures of bad meat and cheese that were being broadcast in the prime time news casts on television. A boy in the group complained that his mother no longer stocked the fridge with salami and different kinds of cold cuts. One of the girls on the other hand said she had finally lost some weight because she was scared to eat most foods from stores and has been eating fruits and cooked vegetables. As I glanced around I noticed that everyone else in the tram was eavesdropping on the conversation. Many nodded in agreement.

Much to my surprise, the Czech Food and Agriculture Inspection says the nation is overreacting. Check-ups are done all year-round and the fact that health violations of such dimension have been uncovered at various stores almost concurrently is only a coincidence. Most stores are safe and when expired yoghurt happens to be on the shelves, it may only be an error and was most likely not put there on purpose, in hope that customers wouldn't notice.

But I wonder how much that is true. A friend informed me that the food inspection office has set up a special 24hr customer service hotline that consumers can call with complaints. She decided to try it out as she had long suspected that her local supermarket was repackaging cheese with a later expiry date. Three days after she made the call, she passed by the store and it was closed down. A note on the door said it was taking inventory. When she came back the next day, its doors were open but half the food was gone. Could this have been yet another store that had violated hygiene laws and was forced to throw out half its stock? Well, I don't mind overreacting - and maybe there's a positive side to all of this - it could finally lead to me shedding a few extra kilos...