Food firm which supplied primary schools is fined for ‘filthy conditions’

Mould on a chopping board. The 'contamination meter' shows a reading of 7, 329. A reading of 50 is acceptable.
Mould on a chopping board. The 'contamination meter' shows a reading of 7, 329. A reading of 50 is acceptable.

A Boston firm which supplied food for children in primary schools throughout South Lincolnshire has been fined £13,800 and ordered to pay £4,300 costs after magistrates heard about filthy conditions at the unit where meals were prepared.

Boston Magistrates heard on Monday (March 24) that Food 4 Thought GB Ltd admitted 12 different food hygiene charges involving raw meat being stored next to cooked ready-to-eat ham, dirty cups being supplied to a school, dirty plastic bowls and colanders, dirty and mould-stained cutting boards, dirty floors, flaking paint and dirty walls, dirty cleaning cloths and inadequate labelling of food.

Magistrates reduced the potential fine by 30 per cent in recognition of the guilty pleas. A victim surcharge of £130 was also made.

Environmental Health Officers from Boston Borough Council visited the premises at Unit B8, Boston Trade Park, Norfolk Street, Boston, following an alert from colleagues at South Holland District Council. There were concerns about the cleanliness of equipment supplied to a school in their area by Food 4 Thought GB Ltd.

A visit to the unit on October 4 found poor standards of hygiene, controls and management.

Caroline Clark and Moira Clark agreed that the standards were not acceptable for premises producing food for vulnerable school children and agreed to deep clean the premises over the weekend.

On October 8 a re-inspection was undertaken and the environmental health officer noted that although a deep clean had been carried out there were still outstanding detailed cleaning issues to be addressed before the premises could be considered to be of an acceptable standard.

Magistrates expressed surprise that someone with even a basic knowledge of food hygiene had not identified issues before the visit.

Because Food 4 Thought was involved in preparing, cooking and distributing meals to primary schools throughout South Lincolnshire, it had been necessary for Boston Borough Council to approve the premises under the European Food Safety Legislation and approval issued which enabled the business, if it chose, to distribute food throughout the EU. Such approved premises are expected to maintain high food safety standards at all times.

After the hearing Coun Stephen Woodliffe, Boston Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Environmental Health, said: “It is of paramount importance in any commercial operation supplying food to the public that stringent hygiene standards are maintained at all times, and that is particularly necessary when food is being prepared for children. The public can be assured that this council will take very decisive action if it believes public safety is at risk, and it is clear from the severity of the fines imposed here that the courts view this breach of public safety very seriously too.”

Speaking to The Standard today, Food 4 Thought’s Caroline Clark said: “We remain committed to food hygiene in our operation, as our case mentioned we admitted that at the time standards did fall below those which we and the local authority endeavour to keep to only the highest levels. We would like to reassure our customers that the findings are not of recent visits to the site, but a single one off historic visit. Upon receiving the report, for which this prosecution started from, some six months ago, we immediately re-recruited our management team, and gave further training to the area manager. We are confident that following our senior management actions, the site immediately reverted to the highest of standards, as evidenced in our last official star rating of 5/5. However, we have also requested another visit from the district, as soon as possible, so that following the court hearing, we can again evidence our commitment to food hygiene.

“Operating a total of 8 sites throughout the county, this is the only one where any problem has been indicated and in fact all of our other sites have received only the highest rating in each district. We are disappointed in the local authority in this case, as strongly believe that a better working relationship, as we have with other authorities, would have resulted in a less damaging and costly manner to resolve matters. This is certainly a failure of our management for a short period, which is inexcusable, however it too is a failure of the LA in developing a productive relationship.

“Our business ethic of remaining positive carries on here, and we are grateful for the support of our customers, many of whom have visited the facility and can see that on a more than regular basis only the highest standards are upheld by our team. After recent dialogue with the LA we also look to build a relationship with the department and the appointed officer.

The Standard understands that Food 4 thought wishes to challenge the council over information released about the matter. However, the council says it stands by the information as published.