Over the past few years the UK has stood up and said no to monotonous restaurant dining, paving the way for some weird and wonderful food trends. ‘Dans Le Noir’ translating to ‘in the dark’ is a restaurant doing exactly what is says – you eat your meal in total darkness to sharpen taste buds. Over at ‘The Attendant Café’, you’ll be dining in an old Victorian public toilet; it’s safe to say that trends like this often leave the country simultaneously excited and repulsed.
The most recent craze, prevalent in Japan for quite some time, has made its way across the world and landed on the laps of feline loving Brits with the warmest of welcomes. Cat Cafés have popped up across the country ranging from ‘Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium’ in London, to the more straightforward titled ‘Cat Café’ in Manchester. The idea of these establishments being that you can have your cake and eat it, whilst drinking coffee and cuddling cats; the perfect solution for animal lovers that can’t have pets of their own.
However, a recent investigation could have the potential to damage the reputation and likability of such kitty eating quarters. In early September, the first and only cat café in Leicester was shut down, just weeks after opening, for poor hygiene. Upon a visit from Leicester City Council, ‘Cats, Cakes and Coffee’ was scored a poor food hygiene rating of one, suggesting that major work needs to be done to improve the cleanliness standards.
Very disturbed by visit to Stoneygate ‘Cat Cafe’. Teenager answered door, ‘mum out’, overpowering smell of cat faeces, cats looked very sad
— Dominic Shellard (@DMUVC) August 4, 2015
Dominic Shellard, Vice Chancellor of De Monfort University in Leicester, tweeted that he was “very disturbed” when he visited the café in question. He described an “overpowering smell of cat faeces” upon arrival and he wasn’t the only one to show concern as Leicester City Council received reports from numerous members of the public who were, likewise, alarmed at the poor standards.
Following the release of the Leicester scandal, the owner of the café insisted that the only reason she was given such a low rating was due to a lack of paperwork and decided to voluntarily close the café due to her own ill health, declaring that the cats were now back in their own homes, happy and healthy. If this was the case, it goes to show that this niche range of cafés need to have the same management systems in place as a well-run ‘normal’ café, with the only difference being the addition of cats.
Not all feedback for cat cafes have been negative though, as the opinions of customers were divided; whilst some displayed dissatisfaction, others said they enjoyed being able to visit the café and pet the animals.
What do we think?
Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of April 2004 states that ‘Adequate procedures are to be in place to prevent domestic animals from having access to places where food is prepared, handled or stored (or, where the competent authority so permits in special cases, to prevent such access from resulting in contamination).’
These EU Regulations, are applied throughout the UK, and do not prohibit the presence of pets in catering establishments such as pubs, restaurants and takeaways. This decision remains at the discretion of the proprietor. However, all food businesses would be expected to take the presence of animals into account where it is pertinent to food safety. This would particularly be the case in any room, such as a kitchen, where food was being handled openly.
Food businesses are responsible to ensure their own food safety management procedures identify and control risks to food hygiene such as having adequate procedures in place to prevent domestic animals from having access to places where food is prepared, handled and, or stored.
Without solid facts regarding the definite cleanliness and procedures in place at such dwellings, it’s tough to decide on whether or not we like the idea of a cat café. If cats are not likely to come into contact with any food or food preparation areas, and there is evidence of this, then what’s the difference between this and a regular café?
Although cats are perceived as relatively clean creatures, they are still using the same paws that trample in the litterbox to potentially tiptoe around on food preparation areas, which increases the risk of picking up harmful germs and bacteria and thus trailing them across kitchen counters. Toxoplasmosis is a disease which is caused by bacterial found in cat faeces and can be the cause of flu like symptoms in some people and as dangerous as birth defects if a woman is infected for the first time whilst pregnant. Diseases such as this highlight the importance of regularly sterilising counters for more than just aesthetic reasons.
At the end of the day, there are no hidden secrets with this topic – the basics are to treat these cafes with usual kitchen operating procedures and as long as the café is adhering to making sure the cats stay away from food preparation areas, and don’t pose a slip or trip risk their USP should be safe.
A cuppa and a cat can be an enjoyable experience, management just need to be stringent in the measures put in place to keep the food in one place, and cats in another. Let’s just hope these rumoured snake cafés keep their distance.
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