By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Sunday, October 17th the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas was the target of a blitz against dangerously poor hygiene in restaurants, with police closing several of the popular outlets around the lake’s perimeter and once again bringing the hygiene practices of some of Rio’s more high-profile restaurants and neighborhoods into focus.
Restaurante Arab, near the Parque dos Patins on the western edge of the Lagoa, was among those closed down in the operation, and manager Zeilda Machado da Silva was detained at a police station in Gávea pending payment of the fine. It is alleged that food up to two months out of date was served as well as being kept in unhygienic conditions including, according to reports, minced meat left out of the refrigerator and next to bags of plant fertilizer.
Rio has something of a checkered history when it comes to food health and safety, with oft-repeated warnings regarding everything from rotisserie chickens in Leblon grocery stores to the quality of water used by sweet corn sellers, and of course the ever-arched eyebrow towards those selling shrimps on the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon under the midday sun.
Earlier this month the meat section of the Leme branch of the expensive Zona Sul supermarket chain was shut down by the Prefeitura for breaches of hygiene laws, and Sendas in Copacabana also received a fine for serving out of date foods.
The fines handed out remain negligible however, with supermarkets fined just over R$1,000 for these infractions it is clear many businesses will not be forced to improve imminently. The restaurants were not to be open again until work had been done to improve conditions, but on Monday, Restaurante Arab operated with little signs of such improvements made in the kitchens or food-serving areas.
Mediterrâneo was another establishment to be closed on the Lagoa’s Parque dos Patins, falling foul of the blitz with reports suggesting that pans were left out next to pairs of old trainers, whilst a third location in Corte do Cantagalo was reprimanded for out of date food and drinks.
There can be little doubt, however, that even these small measures are an improvement in a culture with bigger fish to fry then the subject of hygiene. Centro is awash with low-cost diners and por-kilos many of which are run-down and in dire need of modernization, and the cleaning up of these locations will also have a big impact on profiteering restaurateurs having to invest to meet new standards.
Dining in Zona Sul is far from inexpensive, but it appears that a certain level of diligence is still required from patrons to avoid conditions that are potentially hazardous to their health. Sunday’s action, in a popular part of the city for diners, suggests that the city council does have a plans in operation to lift hygiene standards, and tighter controls along with heavier fines form a key part of Mayor Eduardo Paes’ ongoing strategy to prepare the city for its 2014 World Cup hosting and Olympic debut in 2016.