Health inspectors have always been a figure of fun in sitcoms but the problems with hygiene in cafes, restaurants and the like are becoming more and more common. CHT investigates
Hygiene standards in cafes, restaurants, bars and even office canteens are a concern for many people up and down the country. The good news is that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) approves 91 per cent of food outlets they inspect. The bad news is that nine per cent of all the food outlets in the UK is a very large number.
What this means is that roughly one in 11 outlets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland get a score of less than three on the ratings system everyone will recognise from the green scorecards in buildings up and down the country. Companies only get this low score if their food is actually dangerous to eat and therefore causes an imminent risk to public health.
In 2013 the Guardian published an article which revealed that of all the towns and places across the three countries only Craigavon in Northern Ireland saw every single outlet in the area pass. On the other end of the spectrum Bexley was the worst offender with barely two thirds passing.
Also businesses aren’t obliged to display the infamous green scorecards but many do, presumably those with good scores. But, distasteful as it may be, the worst stories are often far more interesting than the best. For example in the last month alone there are dozens of news stories exposing offenders all over the land.
Pedro’s Indian Cuisine (CHT can’t explain the name) in Kingswinford, West Midlands was ordered to pay over £7,000 in fines and costs after failing a recent inspection. The floors were reportedly mouldy, food was being stored in mouldy containers and much of the food in the fridge was rotting. The clincher though is the dead rat found at the side of the restaurant and the rat droppings under the sink.
Of course this is all very worrying but still, like a bad car crash, there is a certain sick pleasure in reading about it. Apparently at Pedro’s staff weren’t even trained in food hygiene practices and all of this resulted in the restaurant receiving a zero out of five when inspected. In the end the owners went to Dudley Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to a total of eight offences.
expressandstar.com reported a comment from Rachel Harris, cabinet minister responsible for health and wellbeing. She said: “We much prefer to work with businesses to secure compliance with the law, but we will not hesitate to take legal action against the minority of food business proprietors who do not take our advice on board and who fail to meet their legal responsibilities.
“Nearly half of all food outlets in the borough are achieving the top hygiene rating of five and the vast majority achieve a satisfactory rating of three or more. I would urge consumers to check out hygiene ratings online as these will give consumers a glimpse of what is going on in the kitchen when they eat out, or behind the scenes at the places they shop.”
Of course Pedro’s is far from the only offender. Big Mama’s Italian takeaway in Stockton on Tees was recently closed after failing a food hygiene investigation. As a sign of the times all the information about why seems to have come out over social media and is therefore mostly rumour but rodents crop up again and again.
According to local news site gazettelive.co.uk Stockton Council said: “Environmental health officers carried out an inspection of Big Mamma’s take-away last night which identified food hygiene related issues.
“Investigations are continuing and the business has closed so that these issues can be addressed. Council officers will continue to monitor the takeaway to make sure that there is no risk to public safety.”
Apparently customers were present in the establishment when the inspection took place and one person claimed on Facebook that they had already paid for their food when they overheard the inspector advise Big Mama’s to close in order to address several issues.
Of course poor hygiene is one thing, lying about it is quite another. A shop on Bridge Street in Merthyr Tydfil was recently accused of posting a sticker in a window showing a rating of five out of five when the actual rating was one out of five. After failing to change the sticker the owner, a Mr. Kinili, was issued with a fixed penalty notice but failed to pay his fine.
According to walesonline.co.uk the local council passed the issue onto Merthyr Magistrates Court for consideration, and on August 3rd, he was ordered to pay the full fine within 14 days.
Susan Gow, the council’s environmental health manager, commented: “The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is mandatory and the majority of food business operators in Merthyr Tydfil proudly display their score for customers to see the good work that goes on in the kitchen to produce safe food.
“Even those businesses still working on raising their score have to comply with the requirements of the scheme and display their rating and again, almost all comply.
“I know that members of the public in Merthyr are behind the scheme as it enables them to make an educated choice about the food they eat and the food hygiene rating scheme is an excellent aid in doing so.
“Please rest assured that where food hygiene standards are found to be less than adequate, our inspectors will take measures to achieve improvements.
“Alongside this, food businesses are monitored to ensure that current food hygiene ratings are displayed, not only as an incentive to improve, but so that residents, particularly the vulnerable in society, can make an informed choice on where they eat.”
As with education, healthcare and law Scotland ploughs its own furrow when it comes to hygiene inspections, but the country still has plenty of causes for concern. At the time of writing the Scottish Food Safety Agency was insisting that it has “strong scientific evidence,” that a cheesemaker could be linked to an e-coli outbreak which had made over a score of people ill and even caused the death of a three year old girl.
According to the Guardian’s website Food Standards Scotland (FSS) “denied charges from one of the UK’s leading bacteriologists, Professor Sir Hugh Pennington, that its decision on Wednesday to ban the sale of all six brands from Errington Cheese had been heavy handed.”
In a detailed defence of its conduct, the agency said “it had established that 15 of those who fell ill in July and since had eaten the Dunsyre Blue cheese that first sparked the food scare, while four others had eaten an unspecified type of blue cheese.”
However Errington Cheese Ltd has publically commented that: “E coli O157 has not been found in its cheese.”
“This is inaccurate. Some samples have tested positive for E coli O157 and for another [non-O157] strain of E coli. These organisms are considered a serious risk to public health.”
However the FSS added that it “was not satisfied that the controls and production methods used by the business are producing safe food.”
Of course it isn’t just the food industry that runs afoul of moden hygiene and health and safety regulations. This month refinery29.uk reported that an Austrain woman has been banned from wearing a burkini whilst swimming because the outfit “breached health and safety rules.”
The incident reportedly took place in Stadthallenbad indoor pool in Vienna. The woman claimed to have phoned the pool prior to visiting to check they were happy with burkinis but upon arrival was told that because it was made of cotton she couldn’t wear it. The woman denies that the burkini was made of cotton at all.