Is it a seed? Is it a current? No, it's mouse droppings; definitely not what a consumer would like to find as a topping (or what a food provider would like to serve, for that matter).
Vermin is something that food companies are likely to have to consider at some point, if not on an ongoing basis. This case unfortunately shows an extreme example where there were serious failures in food and hygiene standards, and where that could lead in terms of sentencing. An unannounced inspection of the west London store, following a customer's complaint, found the bakery to be in a "filthy state". Environmental Health Officers found mouse faeces on bags of flour, food packaging and trolleys used for bread and shelving. In addition to that, there was a frozen mouse found at an entrance to a walk-in freezer and food packaging had been gnawed. It was considered that the bakery was an imminent risk to public health and as such the store manager agreed to voluntary closure. There was also a voluntary surrender of the food stored in the contaminated areas.
Asda pleaded guilty to four offences under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013. It was fined £250,000 for each offence but, due to an early guilty plea and mitigating factors, the final sum was reduced.
This fine demonstrates the impact the new sentencing guidelines have had on food and hygiene offences. However, with a turnover in the region of £22bn, the court had the ability to go much higher. Food Business Operators must keep in mind that it is not the actual outcomes alone, but the risk of them that the court must consider, and rodents can carry a wide range of disease-causing organisms.
Asda's bakery was closed for 10 days, and on subsequent inspections it was shown that improvements had been implemented.
It is important to ensure any problems are rectified as quickly as possible and that companies cooperate, where reasonable to do so, with the Environmental Health Officers. Ashfords acted last year for a food company that had problems with a mouse infestation; we successfully helped them to avoid a prosecution by advising them to act fast and accept closure until the problem had been solved. Assistance from our consultants ensured that methods and procedures were implemented and maintained. The whole situation was turned around in less than a week.
If you would like any assistance from Ashfords' Regulatory Consultancy, please contact Rob Belton: R.Belton@ashfords.co.uk. Ashfords can also provide companies with in-house training on the new sentencing guidelines, giving your employees a better understanding of the ramifications of safety and hygiene failures and providing a useful foresight into the prosecution process.