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Closedown Order for Small Eateries Sparks Debate

You better enjoy that little restaurant you've been patronizing for so many years, because it likely won't be there next year.

A recent government order to close restaurants with business space of less than 50 square meters has drawn criticism and doubts from local restaurateurs as to its viability.

The order, which was made by the Shanghai Health Supervision Agency under the Shanghai Health Bureau, states that such facilities will have to shut by June 30 next year. Hygiene standards were listed by the agency as the main concern for the closures.

To ensure such orders are enforced, the agency will carry out a citywide check to measure facilities. If area is smaller than 50 square meters, they will have to close or switch to other businesses, such as serving wonton and noodles.

Through the move, the agency hopes to weed out any undersized eateries.

The agency estimated that out of Shanghai's 30,000 restaurants, there were about 10,000 small eateries. The number does not include unlicensed stalls and small street-side stores.

But many were left puzzled by the agency's rationale behind the relationship of space and hygiene.

"There's no direct relationship between the business space and hygiene standard. The only important thing is the operators' hygiene awareness," said Professor Guo Hongwei at the Public Health Institute under Fudan University.

"Is there any difference between a 49-square-meter eatery and a 50-square-meter eatery?" questioned Wen Lianhui, who operates a chain of wonton shops called Jixiang.

"I don't want to deny that many small eateries do have hygiene problems. But the important thing for the health authorities is to teach them how to improve, rather than close them all."

Some operators don't believe the government means business.

"I ran this restaurant for 10 years. It has always been very popular," said the owner of Chun, a small eatery near the intersection of Jinxian and Maoming roads. "There are a lot of small restaurants in Shanghai. It is impossible for the government to shut all of them."

Chun, which squeezes four tables into about 10 square meters, is popular for its home-style dishes and clean, no-frills atmosphere.

Still, a lot of operators said they were worried.

"I heard of the rule days ago and I am afraid that the restaurant will have to be closed," said Tao Yumei, 50, the owner of a restaurant measuring no more than 15 square meters on Wuxing Road. "I don't think I can find a job with my age and background."

In spite of all these concerns, the agency said yesterday they will stick to what they have announced.

"Small business spaces can result in problems when raw and cooked foods are put together," said Gu Zhenhua, a spokesman of the agency. "A decent restaurant should have four functional areas in raw food washing and processing, cooking, dishware washing and disinfection and storage in the kitchen."

Gu said the agency was working on a detailed rule and will announce it later this month or early next month.

Afterwards, the agency will launch a training course for the small-restaurant owners to renovate or to help them transfer to other business.

(eastday.com September 6, 2003)

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