Finding a random hair in an entrée can be distressing enough, but there are a host of other potential hygiene dangers that are often invisible to restaurant customers, hidden behind closed kitchen doors.
But soon there won't be quite as much guesswork involved in choosing one's next dining experience, at least in Germany. On Thursday, consumer ministers from Germany's federal states, with the exception of the southern state of Bavaria, agreed to institute a color-coded hygiene rating system that will be clearly posted at the entry of every restaurant in the country.
"This is a milestone for consumer protection," said Bremen's health minister Ingelore Rosenkötter.
The "traffic light" scheme will indicate how closely each restaurant adheres to health standards. Green rankings will go to eateries with the highest marks for cleanliness. Yellow will indicate some concerns, and red will point to grave violations. The exact graphic incarnation of the ratings remains undecided, though. "The important thing is that it will be easy to understand at first glance," Rosenkötter said.
The decision came after more than a year of internal wrangling over whether the scheme should mirror Denmark's food safety "Smiley system," which has been in place since 2001. A similar pilot project has been tested in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and in Berlin's Pankow district since 2009, complete with smiley faces. Pankow's progam has been received with particular interest thanks to its monthly online publication of their "negative list," which details the worst hygiene violations using photos of the restaurants in question (see photo gallery) and which has been wildly popular among locals. Berlin has since announced its intention to implement the smiley labels city-wide in July 2011.
Restaurants and Beyond
It now lies with the federal government to create the legal foundation for the new system, which the state-level consumer ministers hope will begin in early 2012. Beginning with restaurants, it will later include bakers, butchers, grocers, commercial kitchens and weekly markets. Pizza delivery establishments, to which customers have little direct contact, will be rated online.
Federal Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner pledged to help implement the new program, but also called on each of the country's 16 states to ensure they had enough public regulations employees on hand to make it a success. "Only when the level of regulation is high in all states and the monitoring results are current does this barometer make sense," she told the regional daily Stuttgarter Zeitung.
Reaction to the announcement was mixed. While consumer organizations were largely in favour of the meaasure, food industry advocates said it threatened to destroy business.
"Exemplary establishments can use their rating to advertize, while those that aren't as good have incentive to improve, and the black sheep have nowhere to hide," the national association of consumer initiatives said.
The German Federation for Food Law and Food Science (BLL) said the program could only work if states were willing to conduct more frequent tests and spend more money.
Meanwhile heavy criticism came from the national hotel and gastronomy association DEHOGA, which said current regulations are sufficient. "This system is built to endanger people's existence," they said in a statement.
kla -- with wire reports
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