Food watchdog shows red cards before Olympics

ATHENS – Greece’s food safety watchdog has found that 70 percent of food outlets surveyed this year have broken safety and hygiene rules, and will fine or shut down hundreds of them, weeks before the Athens Olympic Games. The hotels, restaurants and food stores in five Olympic cities across Greece fell short in tests ranging from food quality to storage facilities, Nikos Katsaros, president of the watchdog EFET, told Reuters on Wednesday. «Since the beginning of the year, we have checked around 3,200 food-related businesses, like restaurants, canteens and supermarkets… in total, around 70 percent showed omissions, shortcomings or serious problems of spoilt food that is dangerous to public health,» Katsaros said. «Ten percent of businesses sold food that was below standard and dangerous, a further 20 percent sold food which was substandard, while 30 percent of restaurants and tavernas broke hygiene rules, with old utensils, dirty toilets and the like,» he added. A total of 170 tons of spoilt meat, fish and dairy was confiscated, while the 265 worst offenders face fines, legal action and possible closure. «We are intensifying inspections in the five Olympic cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Volos, Patras and Iraklion, and expanding them to businesses in tourist hotspots like Santorini, Myconos and Corfu,» Katsaros said. «We are on the alert ahead of the Games… we have, however, noticed in recent repeat inspections that many businesses are quick to comply, especially those that posted only minor offenses,» he added. Earlier in the year, EFET issued suggestions for improvement to one in three restaurants, cafes and fast-food outlets in a survey, giving owners a June deadline for full compliance with hygiene codes. Greece’s cheap and cheerful tourism formula made it a backpacker favourite in the 1980s, but the country is hoping the arrival of more upmarket Olympic tourists will help it carve out a new image as a highbrow holiday destination. That effort suffered a blow last year when Germany’s junior rowing team came down with gastroenteritis caused by a salmonella infection during an Olympic test event, while reports of overpriced, substandard food and accommodation regularly make domestic and international headlines.