French food safety

This is another part of my “offend the French” series. But actually I think anybody who takes a step back to look at the issue of French food safety objectively cannot deny the stark contrast between France and the US on these issues.

One of the things that has probably surprised me the most about France is the utter lack of food safety regulations and practices. I understand that back in the US we are known to go very overboard on sterilization, and that’s not what I’m advocating for here. In France, the problem is quite the opposite.

Here is probably the best (worst?) example that I’ve seen of not caring at all about hygiene as it pertains to food. We were on the Paris metro last month when we saw a girl not paying attention (reading the phone or something) as her baguette brushed against the vertical hand rail the whole time. While this may be among the most disgusting examples I’ve seen, this disregard for baguette cleanliness is pervasive. When you buy a baguette, the worker places it right on the counter. When eating, it is normal to place that bread right on the table, even in public places.

We have seen many other instances in which the locals don’t even pause to consider the transfer of germs. We’ve seen dish rags dropped on the floor, picked up, and immediately used to dry dishes. I’ve seen all types of silverware and food picked up off the floor. This happens frequently in restaurants and it also happens at the lab. At the lab, when something gets spilled on the floor, the table sponge is used to wipe it up. I’ve seen the dish towel at work used as a bib for a child and then returned to the hook. This isn’t obsessive sterilization that I’m seeking. I’m honestly shocked that a modern first-world country doesn’t seem to have discovered germ theory.

To me it goes further than concern about disease. I see it as a matter of pride. Everybody knows that the French are proud of their food culture. But “having pride” doesn’t seem to translate to “taking pride.” In my culture, if I take pride in my cooking, serving food that hasn’t been on the floor is part of the deal.

The lesson: Keep an eye on the people handling your food in France. Or actually I think I’d enjoy dining in France a lot more if I were oblivious.

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