Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beware Food in Prague, Health Inspectors Warn

PRAGUE -- The picturesque Czech capital is famed among tourists as one of Central Europe's most stunning destinations. But health officials warn that dining out in Prague could be a less than lovely experience.

Restaurants and bars sprang up soon after the fall of Communism in 1989 as locals rushed to satisfy the appetites of hungry tourists.

Government officials say health regulations couldn't keep pace with the entrepreneurial spirit -- and now diners are suffering.

Salmonella poisoning shot up from 891 registered cases in 1989 to 3,400 last year. Figures for 1996 are expected to be even higher, Prague's public health chief, Vladimir Polanecky, said Thursday.

On average, more than half the food tested from Prague's delicatessens and pastry shops fails to pass health standards, he said. The same holds true for some 20 percent of restaurant meals.

"The restaurant and food business has become too liberal, and the legislation is full of gaps," Polanecky said. "Anyone can run a restaurant these days, and there are too few inspectors."

Polanecky believes the actual number of food poisoning cases is even higher than government records indicate since the public health office only learns about the worst cases.

Moreover, it may take up to 36 hours before a diner begins to feel the effects of salmonella poisoning, he said.

"Most of the tourists come and spend less than three days here. Many may get sick after they leave town," he said

Tourism in the long-isolated city has blossomed into an annual $2 billion industry. The number of tourists has tripled, from 29.6 million in 1989 to 98 million last year, according to government figures based on hotel occupancy. Growth has come so fast that Prague city hall says it cannot say exactly how many restaurants and bars have opened since 1989. The number is surely in the thousands.

Czech sales inspectors, who supervise the quality of goods and services, including food stores, restaurants, bars and cafes, agreed something must be done.

Inspectors also found that 72 of 93 restaurants checked to be deficient -- mostly because of poor hygiene such as improperly stored food, dirty kitchens and -- shades of native son Kafka's Gregor Samsa -- cockroach infestation.

Reaction among restaurant and bar managers is mixed, with some arguing the concern is exaggerated. "The situation is not so alarming," bar manager Daniela Sibalova said. "Some places are disgusting, that's true, but if people eat there, that's their problem."

However, Ivan Komorous, manager of the Profit restaurant, said health inspections "are in the interest of all of us in business."

"There are some barbarians running restaurants these days, they just want to make easy money. They jeopardize all of us," he said.

Restaurant manager Jaroslav Pisa said inspectors and health officials "make trouble over really minor things.

"The situation outside Prague is much worse," he said. "And the foreigners don't care anyway. They just want to get stuffed for as little money as possible."