Friday, December 14, 2012

Dear Sweden – Why do you hate sneeze guards?

I’m not naïve. I spent my college years working in restaurants. I know things happen to food. I know you can never be certain of anything you do not prepare 100%, and even then a lot happens behind the scenes (unless you pick and mill your own flour).

The Swedes have never seemed to be big fans of sneeze guards – plastic screens that are required in the US when you have food placed around large groups of people (think of what you typically see at an American buffet, or on a cruise, or the Sizzler). You don't see them on smorgasbords or at Christmas buffets. But you used to have them at gas stations and kiosks, at least in the form of plastic cabinets.

This fall I have noticed more and more baked goods moving out from underneath plastic seethru cabinets and into nice big baskets underneath customers noses. And all I can think of is ‘Ick!’

Take Pressbyrån for example. They are at most Swedish train stations and bus stations. Usually I grab a cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast when I am running late for work. But lately they have started placing all the croissants out in the open, where customers can cough, sneeze or just go about their business all around them.

Pressbyrån even went so far as to place a basket full of cinnamon rolls right in front of the cashier. I know the idea is to entice me to make a last minute purchase of a roll, but I have not bought a croissant since. All I can imagine is everyone reaching for change, dropping small things into the rolls, coughing, grabbing their hot dogs, pouring mustard and ketchup and just generally exposing the rolls to stuff I don’t want to ingest.

Am I overreacting? Probably. As I said, I have worked in the food industry. I know wearing caps and plastic gloves are largely for show – I mean, most people still scratch their nose with the gloved hand and reach back in the food – but still sneeze guards are about a little more than illusion. They do limit the exposure to some bacteria. And in flu season, I want whatever help I can get.

I was most disappointed with my local Ica store. We have a great, albeit expensive, local Ica store that specializes in local produce, has taste stands for new products, and even recently started to stock Paneer in their cheese section. Yay!

And I have written about their great selection of breads. Sadly, I will no longer be purchasing said breads. Three weeks ago when I went to grab a loaf from the plastic cabinet, I noticed a large piece of duct tape and a chord to a lamp dangling onto the loaves of bread. The tape was covered in flour and seeds.

‘Gross’ I thought and decided to try again a few days later, figuring someone would clean it up. They didn’t. A week later, and I realized how seldom they must be cleaning in the cabinets, as the tape and chord were looking really nasty – glue, plus lightbulb, plus flour, plus tape = petri dish wet dream.

That was when I decided I would not buy bread there any more. But I also wanted to tell the store, because I love them and I thought this was against their policy.

It took me 3 weeks until someone was there from the department to complain to. when I pointed out the giant piece of duct tape, now turning brown and nasty, she shrugged her shoulders, ripped down the duct tape, put it in her pocket, left the chord dangling in the bread and went continued to put freshly baked bread in the cabinet.

I turned around and told her that ‘I would not be  purchasing bread from there again since I thought it was disgusting’ and walked away. I plan on emailing the owner of the store as well, because something about the whole thing feels so wrong to me. But what do I know.

Until then, I am working from home next month, and will go back to working the bread machine – and miss my sourdough bread. 


  1. I´ve thought of the same things. And since I became very ill this summer and the only one in my family I will never buy bread and such things openly exposed again and no "julbord" for me:-). I think there is a lack of education in hygiene in this country, it´s more important with such a thing in other countries, sorry for us living here.

    1. I'm sorry you got sick, I am with you on being a lot more careful about the bread I buy. And weird that a country I usually consider rather 'clean' does seem to be rather lax in their hygiene regulations.

  2. You are not alone. I am horrified by the same thing every time i go to the store, and I am a native. Luciakatter exposed on pedistals in the middle of the aisles where anyone can fondle, drip, cough, etc on them.
    The candy stores (for example Hemmakväll) i react a lot to as well. They used to have protective lids to cover all the candy from all the horrible stuff that goes around (especially now during flu season). And that candy sint exactly replaced every day either. Sits there in the open air week after week collecting dust and who knows what.

    Hope they fix the bread situation you are having.

    First time I comment here and I have to say I always find what you read to be interesting.

    1. Glad to know we foreigners are not alone in our thoughts on this! Yes, I love luciakatter, but have not bought many this year because of those pedestol things. I know my 2 year old is pretty good at listening when I say 'No, you cannot pick out the raisins' but I can imagine some little hands get in there anyway!

      Forgot about the candy - I only buy the wrapped kind after reading way too many articles about how many people catch winter puking disease from those candy bins.

      Sad story yesterday about someone dying, and 26 falling ill from puking flu spread thru pizza salad- Probably left uncovered and sitting out.

  3. If you encounter these things you haft to report it to "Miljö och hälsoskyddskontoret". Then the food inspectors will do an investigation. You should also report if you ever get sick from the food you've eaten. I'm on my way to become an food inspector. There are laws regarding these things.

  4. Thanks for the tip - always wondered about the food inspectors here. I know in Denmark they have signs on the doors with food inspection grades and when I worked in NYC we got visits regularly from inspectors - I will send a copy of the letter I send to my ICA to the health inspector as well.