Hygiene traffic lights

29th of June 2011
Hygiene traffic lights

The German government has decided to introduce a system indicating levels of hygiene in restaurants – reports ECJ correspondent Thomas Schulte-Marxloh.

After many years of discussion, the ministers for consumer protection of the federal states of Germany have finally decided to introduce a system to indicate the hygiene level of restaurants. The system resembles the ‘Smileys’ in Danish restaurants and retail food enterprises introduced in 2001. Germany’s consumers, however, will not see a Smiley but a colour bar with green, yellow or red.

“Green means good, yellow means shortfalls and red is really bad - and a business which is really bad should not be visited by consumers,” Lucia Puttrich, minister for consumer protection in the federal state of Hessen explained the system being proposed. The ministers also expressed their wish for a respective national law which the national government has to work out now. Finally, the Bundestag (German parliament) will have to pass the law.

But it's not only the way of indicating the hygiene level of a restaurant that's different from Denmark. The subjects of investigation are limited in Germany. In Denmark all shops, restaurants and other companies selling food and beverages to the public are inspected on a regular basis - typically one to three times a year.

The respective reports are posted in all restaurants, pizzerias, grocery shops, supermarkets, kiosks, bakeries, butchers, greengrocers, canteens, elderly homes and hospital kitchens: even a hot-dog stand in the streets must show them.

In Germany the planned system is limited to regular restaurants or pubs. Of course, the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA) is not amused that the system, in contrast to Denmark, is limited to their clientele. “A good hygiene practice should also be evident in all food processing enterprises,” said Ernst Fischer, president of DEHOGA. In this respect the consumer organisation ‘Foodwatch’ agrees. It wants a control system which includes restaurants, retailers and food producers.

Not enough inspectors

Also different to Denmark, where businesses have to face a number of annual inspections, half of all German companies are not inspected at all whereas other enterprises are inspected several times. Martin Müller, head of the German Association of Food Inspectors, explains that already today the obligatory food inspections can hardly be carried out. About 1,500 new inspectors are needed. Currently 2,500 food inspectors have to control 1.1 million companies and the food inspectors are out of their depth. Furthermore, Müller explains, a lack of new blood is going to intensify the problem.

The so-called ‘Hygiene-Ampel’ (hygiene signal light) certainly means an advantage not only for consumers but also for the contract cleaning industry. The pressure on the food business regarding hygiene is increasing. Several scandals in the past (however, mainly outside of the restaurant business) created a higher public awareness. Hygiene has become of high value again and means healthiness or life. It is worth the prize. And the contract cleaning industry can deliver it.

Congratulations to the Danes: if there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark” it can hardly be found in the food industry.


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