When the former Social Democrat government introduced European Union food hygiene guidelines none protested more loudly than Czech pub owners. They said the strict new standards would bring them to bankruptcy and the ban on serving cooked food which was two days old interfered with the country's "traditions". The Civic Democratic Party - critical of what it called "the government's conformist attitude" towards EU rules and regulations - promised to change things when it came to power. It is now making good that promise. But will the government's new directive make eating out at pubs less safe for us consumers?
Pub owners can celebrate. The Ministry of Trade and Industry is preparing a new directive which will significantly ease the strict hygiene rules for pubs and restaurants as of November. Minister Martin Riman says that in adopting EU norms and recommendations the former government had been unnecessarily hard on Czech pub and restaurant owners:
"The existing directive stipulates that pubs must have running hot water with a temperature of at least 45 degrees. But the EU requirement is that a pub should have running cold water that meets certain norms. The same goes for construction norms which state that each employee should have a work space of two square meters. The vast number of strict new norms introduced is absurd."
The new directive is expected to ease many of the new rules, including the hot-water-at-all-times requirement, a given amount of space for each employee, separate toilets for employees or sensor-equipped taps. However since pubs and restaurants have already met the strict new norms the high standard will be maintained. The biggest question mark hangs over the quality of cooked food.
The old norm stipulated that a cooked meal had to be deep frozen or else served no later than four hours after it was made. The new norm does not set any time limit. On the one hand it will enable pubs to put popular dishes such as goulash, svickova or cabbage stew back on the menu - on the other hand how safe will it be to order one of those dishes at your local pub?
The Czech Republic's Chief Hygiene Officer Michal Vit says that there's nothing to worry about - the new directive is not as strict as the original but it will still fully adhere to the basic requirements set down by the EU.
"There is no time limit - that is true. But there are very strict requirements regarding storage temperature and re-heating that will guarantee that the meal you get should be perfectly safe. Even if you get served yesterday's goulash -under those conditions it should be bacteria-free. And of course our hygiene officers will be out in the field making sure that these conditions are being adhered to."
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