Don’t reveal our dirty secrets, beg French chefs

As a postscript to our recent trip to France, friend of the barfblog.com Albert Amgar, who we had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting, forwarded a note from a French colleague who argued that “I think that too much information on albertd(food safety) problems creates uselessly an alarming climate of insecurity.”

Fail.

I have a vague understanding of this class-based approach to disclosure.

In 1994, as a graduate student, I was invited to a pre-G7 summit in Naples, Italy. The idea was to bring in a scientist and a journalist from each of the G7 countries to discuss medical conditions and whether patients should be told.

I was the scientist and journalist from Canada.

There was a lot of posturing from the Italian hosts, a lot of drinking and eating, and very little work.

It was a lovely weekend.

The Americans, the Brits and me (the Canadians)  agreed on full disclosure.

The other countries, including France, said their patients couldn’t handle it.

Guess things haven’t changed much.

According to The Times Paris on July 20, 2016, government wants to tell diners the truth by publishing results of health and safety inspections on the agricultural ministry’s website – chefs are aghast.

They are even more appalled at a proposal to stick a label in the window of their restaurants that will say whether hygiene is ‘very satisfactory’ ‘satisfactory’ , to improve’ or ‘to be corrected urgently’. Given that only a few restaurants are likely to be deemed ‘very satisfactory’ , the profession fears for its reputation.

Restaurateurs are campaigning to prevent the plan from being implemented next month. Hubert Jan, chairman of the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries, said that his members were already losing money because of France’s poor economic performance and terrorism fears. ‘The profession, which was badly hit by a fall in custom after the terror attacks, does not need to be thrown to the lions and stigmatised.’

The scheme was drawn up amid increasing concern over restaurant hygiene. In summer 2013, health inspectors ordered the closure of 252 establishments. In Paris, 321 were shut last year. Among the concerns of inspectors were sushi leƞ in the sun, broken fridges and food past sell-by date. The agriculture ministry tried out its ‘transparency of food hygiene’ programme in the capital, testing 367 restaurants. 34% were deemed to have a good level of hygiene, 54% were ‘acceptable’ and 8% were told they had to improve. The figures alarmed restaurateurs, who say that the ratings could be posted on internet guides and remain there even after failings have been rectified. They also fear diners will shun establishments with a label on their doors, unless it says ‘very satisfactory’.