for the month of February, 2013
Chester landlord ignored gas safety warnings
A Chester landlord has been fined after ignoring repeated warnings about gas safety at a property she rented out in the city.
Nahida Hashim, 28, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after she failed to arrange for a registered gas engineer to visit a house on Queens Avenue between October 2009 and October 2011.
Chester Magistrates’ Court was told today (17 January 2013) that landlords are legally required to arrange annual gas safety checks of their properties to ensure the safety of tenants.
However, Ms Hashim neglected to do so despite being contacted on several occasions about the issue.
The court heard that she was first contacted by a Housing Standards Officer at Cheshire West and Chester Council in May 2011 asking to see a copy of the Landlord Gas Safety Record for the property.
HSE then wrote to her on two occasions in July after she failed to respond to the council’s request, but it also received no reply.
In September, HSE issued Ms Hashim with an Improvement Notice giving her 21 days to arrange a gas safety check and provide proof it had been carried out. Again, she ignored this.
Nahida Hashim pleaded guilty to breaching the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to arrange an annual gas safety check and failing to comply with an Improvement Notice. The landlord, of Tarvin Road in Littleton, Chester, was fined £400 and ordered to pay £1,000 in prosecution costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Martin Paren said:
“Ms Hashim was given three chances to arrange a gas safety check at the property before we issued an Improvement Notice, but even then she still failed to take any action.
“Unsafe gas appliances are responsible for dozens of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK every year. That is why it’s a legal requirement for landlords to arrange checks.
“This case should act as a warning to landlords that if they ignore the law then they may find themselves in court.”
Raw milk prosecution
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is taking legal action against Selfridges and an award-winning dairy farmer for selling raw cow’s milk from a vending machine.
The FSA launched an investigation last year when Selfridges started selling raw milk from farmer Stephen Hook’s cows in its flagship store in the capital. The vending machine has now been removed.
It is illegal to sell raw milk in England, Wales and Northern Ireland unless it is directly from a producer’s farm or a vehicle such as a milk float. In Scotland it is illegal to sell raw milk to the public.
Selfridges has been charged under food hygiene regulations as ‘a person other than the occupier of a production holding or distributor’ and Mr Hook has been charged as ‘an occupier of a production holding’.
A hearing date has been set for 6 February at Westminster magistrates court.
The FSA told EHN raw drinking milk may contain bacteria that can be harmful to health such as E.coli O157, listeria, salmonella and campylobacter.
‘Pasteurisation will destroy these harmful bacteria and this is why the majority of milk on sale in the UK is pasteurised,’ said a spokesperson.
Selfridges insisted it had not breached the regulations. ‘We do not believe that we have committed any offence. As this matter is subject to legal proceedings we are unable to comment further at this stage.’
Stephen Hook of Longleys Farm, Hailsham, East Sussex, said he was determined to fight the prosecution as he had complied with the regulations.
‘The vending machine in Selfridges’ London food hall had been approved by local environmental health officers and while we acceded to the FSA’s request to remove it in March last year, we have always maintained that the sale of raw milk through vending machines that are the property of the dairy producer and are maintained and stocked by him, is entirely within the spirit of the law,’ he said.
He added that the prosecution was pre-emptive and illogical.
‘It is ironic that at the same time as the FSA was preparing the case against Longleys Farm, it was also consulting us on an upcoming review of the regulations governing raw milk sales – including sales through vending machines and over the internet, which were not foreseen when the 2006 Act governing sales of unpasteurised milk was drawn. To bring a prosecution before the FSA board has even been presented with the evidence of that review seems to us to be pre-emptive and illogical,’ he said.
However the FSA said the case is not linked to the review, which is considering the rules governing the sale and marketing of raw drinking milk and cream in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr Hook also sells raw milk from his website. It is couriered all over the UK including Scotland, where it is illegal to sell raw milk.
‘While some raw drinking milk producers in England are increasingly using the internet to sell raw milk, it remains illegal to place raw milk on the market in Scotland for direct human consumption, irrespective of the sales route used,’ said the FSA spokesperson.
The FSA review will specifically look at internet sales.
UK: Food Standards Agency in meeting on contaminated meat products
The Food Standards Agency will meet suppliers and retailers later on Monday to work out how to prevent contaminated food being sold in shops or used in prisons.
Recently traces of pork have been found in halal products for prisoners and horsemeat in supermarket burgers.
The FSA said firms must make sure food contained what it said on the label.
BBC Radio Wales reporter Gilbert John spoke to farmer Bernard Llewellyn, who is also chairman of the NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board – and asked him if the scandals could affect farming.
UK: NI cold store tests find horse meat
As part of its ongoing investigation into mislabelled meat, the FSA has tested a quantity of frozen meat currently detained in a cold store on the premises of a company called Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland, which is potentially linked to the Silvercrest factory in the Republic of Ireland.
Silvercrest was the supplier of beef burgers that contained horse DNA, identified in a survey carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
Of the 12 samples from the suspect consignment that have been tested, two of the samples came back positive for horse meat, at around 80%. The investigation into the traceability of these raw materials and their source is under way. As this meat was detained, it has not entered the food chain.
Recession sees some food businesses taking safety precautions off the menu
Not washing her hands led to the previously anonymous Irish cook Mary Mallon being transformed into New York’s notorious Typhoid Mary. She was blamed for infecting more than 50 people with the disease in the early 1900s and reportedly said she rarely washed her hands when cooking as she didn’t see the need for it.
Food safety has come a long way since those heady days when fridges, food gloves and best-before dates were unheard of. Now, people starting up food businesses frequently complain about the overwhelming number of regulations facing them.
So does this improvement in food hygiene standards mean the number of food safety enforcement orders has collapsed in recent years? Actually, no.
According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), 46 food businesses were served with enforcement orders in 2008. Last year, up to December 19th, 108 businesses had been served with the orders. This was 24 more than the total for 2011, or an annual increase of nearly 30 per cent. The types of orders vary but are all served because of a risk to public health posed by the restaurant, take-away, shop or food stall.
October saw the highest number of enforcement orders in 10 years and at that time the authority’s chief executive, Prof Alan Reilly, said food safety inspectors were regularly encountering cases where the health of consumers was being put at risk because the businesses were not meeting their legal obligations.
Common reasons for orders include pest infestation, lack of hygiene and storing food at the wrong temperature.
Why is this happening? Food safety experts cite a number of reasons, and the recession is mentioned more than once.
The FSAI’s director of service contracts, Dr Bernard Hegarty, said there is a suggestion that businesses are cutting back on food safety practices to save money. If they have fewer staff and those people are working harder it may mean corners are cut when it comes to hygiene practices.
Finding the resources for staff training might not be a priority when the till remains silent. But Dr Hegarty said this is “a false economy” as the serving of a closure order will cost more money for two reasons. A business can be shut down until the problem is dealt with, so trade is immediately lost.
He said the reputational damage could cost a lot more. The closing of a premises and local media reports about it can seriously damage business and lost ground is hard to make up in the current climate.
This is echoed by the Environmental Health Officers’ Association. Its members, who are Health Service Executive employees, issue most of the enforcement orders. The association’s spokeswoman, Lisa Fitzpatrick, said training is vital to ensure food safety and should never be looked upon as an optional extra. “It is key to ensuring food safety within a food business,” she said.
“Like every sector of the economy the food industry is facing the recession and businesses are trying to make savings but it is imperative that these cuts do not affect training and impinge on food safety and in turn public health.”
Dr Hegarty cited the increase in the number of food businesses in recent years as another factor. He said there were 48,965 food businesses in 2009 compared with 50,853 now.
Ms Fitzpatrick has also noted the increase in the number of people starting up food businesses during the recession due to forced career changes. People with no background in the food sector are opening coffee shops, food stalls and home-based food businesses.
“This can happen without people knowing all the information, legislation and requirements,” Ms Fitzpatrick said. Their mistakes can be as obvious as opening their doors without notifying the relevant authority, such as the HSE. Typically the HSE inspects businesses such as restaurants, delicatessens, retailers, mobile food businesses, food stalls and some manufacturing premises.
Businesses might also be working in a premises not suited to food businesses because of their layout or size.
‘Eyes and ears for the public’
Ms Fitzpatrick said environmental health officers do not want to discourage people from getting involved in the food industry but they can’t turn a blind eye to breaches of the law. “We are the eyes and ears for the public and our priority must be public health,” she said. “I would encourage anyone thinking of starting up a food business to do their research and educate themselves in all aspects of the business.”
Dr Hegarty encourages businesses to use the supports offered by his authority, either through the fsai.iewebsite or the advice line 1890-336677.
The introduction of additional enforcement powers could also go towards explaining the increase in food safety orders. Previously, a closure order could be served only if there was likely to be a grave and immediate danger to public health at or in the premises. Legislation introduced in 2010 means a closure order can also be served if there is significant non-compliance with food safety legislation. Dr Hegarty said about one-quarter of closure orders are served under the new regulations.
Ms Fitzpatrick said closure orders are “the last resort” for environmental health officers.
“As a profession we have a reputation for being reasonable in our approach to enforcement and where possible we work with the food and service industry towards improving standards. As the eyes and ears of the public behind the scenes we have a statutory duty to act in their best interests,” she said.
But while the enforcement figures have been increasing, environmental health officers and the FSAI stress these orders affect a small proportion of food businesses. Dr Hegarty said just over 100 cases in more than 50,000 food businesses is not a large number.
“0.2 per cent is not really a barometer for the whole food industry,” he said. But he said there is always a concern this small percentage could affect the reputation of the entire food sector.
Closure orders: Food watchdog’s concerns
Almost one quarter of closure orders issued between 2004 and 2011 involved ethnic food businesses, mainly Chinese takeaways and African food businesses.
Dr Bernard Hegarty of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland says this issue has concerned the authority for some time and it has introduced several initiatives to help improve food safety practices in ethnic food businesses.
He says Chinese takeaways often operate in small premises with limited resources. Business operators may not be familiar with European food laws and they may have difficulty accessing information in their own languages.
Since 2004 the authority has provided training for 400 Chinese food businesses and has provided information in Mandarin and Cantonese. Dr Hegarty says it continues to expand its range of training materials to cater for ethnic food business operators.
SCOTLAND: Chickens to be ‘superfrozen’ to kill food bug
Food safety experts plan to “superfreeze” chickens to halt the rise of campylobacter food poisoning. The Food Standards Agency is currently looking into a procedure which involves exposing the surface of slaughtered chickens to extreme cold, known as rapid surface chilling.
The radical process is currently being considered to help curb the rampant levels of the food poisoning bacteria commonly found in uncooked poultry products.
Around two-thirds of fresh, raw chicken sold by retailers is believed to be contaminated with campylobacter, which can cause severe stomach upsets.
The FSA aims to reduce the proportion of birds in the highest category of contamination at UK poultry houses from 27 per cent to 10 per cent by 2015.
Dr Jacqui McElhiney, policy adviser on food-borne disease at the FSA in Scotland, said: “This process acts to temporarily cool only the very outer surface of the chicken carcass without freezing the meat itself. It involves exposing the surface of poultry carcasses to very low temperatures for a very short time, which reduces the numbers of campylobacter bacteria on the surface, as they are sensitive to an extreme cold shock treatment of this type.”
Restaurant fined over food safety
An Indian restaurant in Belfast which had mould in the fridge and decaying food on the floor has been fined £1,000.
Damaged food containers exposed Sonali diners to the danger of contamination and grease had built up on the walls of the premises, a Belfast City Council spokesman said.
Babu Rahman has taken over in the kitchen on the exclusive Lisburn Road and said standards had improved.
A council statement said: “The cleanliness of the premises was found to be unsatisfactory. There were decaying food particles on the floor, a build-up of grease on the walls and mould growth in the fridge.”
It said articles directly in contact with food were not kept clean.
“The officer noted damaged food containers in the fridge, which exposed the food to a risk of contamination and part of the kitchen floor was incapable of being cleaned.
“Foodstuffs were not protected from risk of contamination due to a lack of staff hand-washing and raw food above ready to eat food.”
There was also excessive accumulation of waste overflowing from the outside bins belonging to the restaurant.
The owner of the south Belfast restaurant, Sonali Belfast Ltd, was fined £1,000 for six food safety offences and ordered to pay £66 court costs at a Belfast court.
The prosecution was taken by the council following a routine inspection on October 6 2011. The council has confirmed that hygiene at the premises had subsequently improved.
Cadbury regains trust of Birmingham
Birmingham City Council has signed a primary authority agreement with Cadbury even though it prosecuted the firm for selling salmonella contaminated chocolate bars six years ago.
Cadbury was fined £1m for putting unsafe chocolate on the market and for failing to immediately inform the relevant authorities in 2007.
Forty-two people became ill and three required hospital treatment during the 2006 outbreak, which was caused by leaking pipe at a Cadbury factory in Marlbrook, Herefordshire.
EHOs were highly critical of the business at the time and said that Cadbury staff had been told not to speak to the environmental health team.
Mondelez International, which was previously known as Kraft, owns the Cadbury brand. It told EHN the outbreak happened a long time ago and stressed that it had a good working relationship with the council’s food safety team.
‘That was a historical event and both parties have moved on since then. We have an excellent relationship with Birmingham City Council’s EHOs. This is initiative is the latest example of out close working relationship,’ said a spokesperson.
Birmingham City Council insisted relations had improved significantly since the outbreak.
‘After the events of 2006 there has been a complete change of management at Cadbury, including the change of ownership to Kraft. Since Kraft assumed control there has been a significant development in relations between the company and Birmingham City Council, initially through the re-signing of a home authority agreement.’ said a spokesperson.
‘Clear lines of communication were set up, along with the clarification of food safety procedures and the process for the review of policy. The company has an excellent record of compliance as owner of Cadbury, and we are confident that the signing of a primary authority partnership demonstrates their commitment to regulatory compliance and open dialogue.’
A lead officer has been assigned to the primary authority partnership, which will cover hygiene and health and safety. The officer will be working with Mondelez International two days a week on regulatory compliance and business support.
Speaking to the CIEH’s EHP magazine following the outbreak, Nick Lowe, food safety team leader at Birmingham City Council, claimed that Cadbury staff had been told not to tell his team what was happening.
‘Prior to this incident I would have used Cadbury as an example of an open, co-operative relationship. Our officers knew these people, they knew about their children and it is inconceivable they would not have mentioned what was going on if they had not been deliberately told to tell us nothing,’ he said.
Cadbury switched from a ‘zero tolerance approach to a regime that assumed there was a “safe” threshold for salmonella’ without telling Birmingham, which was its home authority.
Speaking to foodmanufacturer.co.uk in 2008, Mr Lowe said: ‘This is a large, multi-national organisation with access to the most up-to-date technical expertise in the field of microbiology; I am just astounded that they embarked on this radical change in policy without getting it checked out properly.
‘It is inconceivable to me that microbiologists wouldn’t have told them that the presence of salmonella in ready to eat foods, particularly those with a high fat concentration like chocolate, is unacceptable at any level.’
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