April 11, 2011

FRENCH FOOD HYGIENE

butcher

One of the blogs I enjoy reading recently had a post about whether or not anyone should consider moving to France.  You can read the original post here.

The writer suggests a few things you have to learn to live with if you are going to survive in France, one of which being the raw food handling practices in the boucherie, charcuterie and poissonnerie.

I have witnessed for myself all over France the relaxed hygiene practices that I sometimes feel slightly unsure about.

On the middle Sunday of a gloriously sunny holiday I popped down the hill to the butcher’s shop in the village to buy something for dinner.  I asked for two pork chops and whilst I was at it, as they would be closed the next day, asked for two veal escalopes as well.

The butcher’s shop in Le Grand-Pressigny is run by a delightful couple, M. and Mme Poupeau.  They are always friendly and helpful and their meat is top quality and delicious. 

On this occasion, whilst M. Poupeau was busy wrapping my meat, I glanced at the cooked meat section and had a sudden fancy for a couple of slices of roast pork for our lunch.  I asked for these and M. Poupeau obliged, pulling the pork joint from the cabinet and slicing two tranches, moving seamlessly from the task of weighing and wrapping our raw meat without apparently stopping to wash his hands.  It took a moment for this to register and it also occurred to me that he could have handled the till, knives, scales, and goodness knows what else immediately after handling raw meat.  Hmmmm……

I paid up and left the shop.  What to do …..?

On the way back up the hill I had a minute or two to think about it. 

  • Their meat is probably local and from a good source, not like the supermarket meat we sometimes buy at home, which comes from heaven knows where. 
  • This was obviously standard practice in France – we had seen it before. 
  • Cross-contamination of food must be so common that if we were really at risk, so many people would have been poisoned by now that most boucheries in France would have been closed down if there was a serious problem.
  • Wouldn’t they ??

Should I tell Nick?  We had both had nasty bouts of food poisoning in the past and Nick is particularly paranoid about it.  I could say nothing and put the cooked meat straight in the bin. Or I could just let us eat it and wait and see what happened.

What would you have done?  And what do you think I did?

16 comments:

  1. When in Rome, Jean and all that. It's their country and their rules. I don't see French people dropping like flies because of such practices. I hope (and I'm sure you did) serve up the pork for lunch and poor Nick was none the wiser!

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  2. I think you are sensible and down-to-earth enough to have eaten the meat ... without telling Nick. And I bet it was delicious! I would have eaten it too. I sometimes have the feeling that people are becoming too overcautious when it comes to hygiene and it's weakening our resistance and immune system.

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  3. Craig and Martine - you might be right - or you might not.
    It's too early for me to give the game away yet !!

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  4. You're going to become a vegetarian? And Nick is going to give up "fromage au lait cru"?

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  5. I think you ate the meat, Jean.

    Sometimes it is best not to think too much!!

    When my father was a teenager, he visited an abbatoir and witnessed a pig being slaughtered. He never ate pork or pork products again, with the exception fo bacon. Why bacon? I didn't ever find out!

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  6. Ian - Never !! We do eat veggie food quite regularly but I could never give up meat.

    Gaynor - you're right - there are things it's best not to think about too much....but that doesn't stop us having discipline and common sense....

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  7. I don't know whether or not you ate the meat.

    It's a difficult situation in a village shop, where you know and like the owners...but hygiene is hygiene and I don't think the source of the meat has much to do with it.

    I've had frequent set tos with staff in supermarkets about cutting raw and cooked meats on the same machine or using the same knife.....and as for wearing plastic gloves, and not changing them!

    Food poisoning cases are more frequent than you might think...our neighbour's daughter in law was always complaining about the standards in the school canteen...as she pointed out, her husband had more controls on the farm than happened anywhere further down the food chain.

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  8. Since you know the butcher and his store, I'm sure the meat was fine. I might be a little more cautious at a new place or in a restaurant (where I've seen them doing exactly the same thing with Steack Tartare).
    Sometimes, you just have to use your common sense.

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  9. It does make me wonder ... I remember our butcher in the UK having completely separate counters for cooked and raw meat. Here the travelling butchers don't quite jumble everything into the same tray, but pretty close, and our trusted local butcher has similar practices to yours.

    On the other hand, we and all our neighbours buy stuff from them and are still around. And indeed the human race survived for centuries without refrigeration or food hygiene rules. So of necessity I have got a bit blasé, and decided that maybe British norms are a bit over the top, at least for healthy adults.

    On the other hand, the epidemics of "gastro" so common in France make me wonder whether poor food hygiene practices might have something to do with it ...

    I'm guessing you ate it :)

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  10. Hope you just ate it. There is a case for saying that we have become over careful [within reason of course--I'm not advocating no hygiene! :-)] and that we catch things too easily because we try and zap everything out of exsitence.

    The worst case [believe me it was 'bad'] of food poisoning I ever had was from an apple turnover bought in a UK bakery where they wore the gloves and followed all procedures .... so "go figure"....

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  11. I would probably not have noticed it in the first place and if I had I would have kept my mouth shut :-)))) Diane

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  12. FITW - I agree. Hygiene is hygiene.

    Dedene - you're also right. It all depends on where you are and who is doing what with what.

    Veronica - you are also right. But centuries ago we didn't have factory farming methods where disease was rife.

    Antoinette - you are also right. We can be too paranoid about it but if you happen to be unlucky like you were.....

    Diane - I'm sure that on another day I would not have noticed either.

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  13. Difficult! I tend not to look too closely and trust those who profess to be professionals.

    I didn't know that about France.

    Anyway, I think you ate it!

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  14. Oooh la la! As a butcher in the UK and someone who has to work across the counters - ie meat fish and cooked deli we always have strict rules to follow so my training would alert me to not eat the two. But am I being over instruced and therefore over cautious? Who knows.

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  15. What caused me worry was the cashier in our local E.Leclerc who blew her nose in a tissue, shoved the tissue in her pocket, wiped the end of her nose with her hand then proceeded to handle the next customer's food items! By the time I had witnessed that I took it for granted that she wouldn't have dreamt of washing her hands after visiting the loo, so I removed all my goods from the conveyor belt and moved elsewhere. I know that the next cashier I tried might not have been any more hygienic but, once I had seen such disgusting behaviour from an adult in a food shop, that was enough for me! Why are some people so unaware of basic hygiene?

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  16. Phil - it's a gamble, I think

    Kathy - ugh !! I often cringe at the loos in some restaurants, especially if the staff have to use them, too.

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