Rats, blood, cockroaches found in closure-order food premises
Highest number yet of enforcement orders issued
One environmental health officer found two cockroach traps in a restaurant kitchen. “One trap held approximately 30 cockroaches, some still alive,” the health officer said
Cockroaches, dead rats and congealed blood were some of the reasons temporary closure orders were served on restaurants and food businesses during the year. Up to December 19th, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recorded 142 enforcement orders issued to premises for breaching food hygiene and safety regulations.
Most cases involved closure orders, where an inspector believed there was or there likely to be, a grave and immediate danger to public health at the premises. The businesses had to close until the danger to public health had been eliminated.
According to the inspection reports, released under the Freedom of Information Act, cockroaches and rodent infestations seemed to be a major problem over the last 12 months.
One environmental health officer found two cockroach traps in a restaurant kitchen. “One trap held approximately 30 cockroaches, some still alive.” In the same kitchen, a butcher’s block was “in a filthy condition” and “there was no evidence of handwashing”. At another restaurant, a duck was found defrosting in a wash-hand basin. Meanwhile, rodent droppings were found in the deli area of a shop while another premises had failed to remove congealed blood from the side of a chest freezer.
One HSE inspector listed 46 breaches of food hygiene regulations in a Chinese restaurant, including a tray of frozen beef covered with a dirty tea towel and left defrosting on a food preparation sink, cats in the storage area and grease dripping from an extract canopy on to a paper tower dispenser.
“Very large numbers of rat droppings” and a “very strong smell of rodent urine and excrement” was found on another premises. Several reports referred to mould growing on produce such as black bean sauce and cooked chicken. Rotting meat was found at one wholesale premises, which was also keeping open food next to mouldy food in a cold room.
According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s director of service contracts, Dr Bernard Hegarty, the 142 orders issued to December 19th was the highest in its history. It was 33 more than the total for 2012, which in itself was up nearly 30 per cent on 2011.
Dr Hegarty says it is difficult to pinpoint just one factor for the increase. “It’s hard to know exactly why the premises hasn’t been cleaned or maintained or kept to correct standards. It could be that people are cutting corners as a measure to cut costs.”
He says many of the closure orders involve basic issues like cleanliness, temperature control and the proper separation of cooked and raw foods. “They are some of the things that are relevant to our own kitchens, as consumers.”
Ultimately it comes down to a lack of commitment by management to food safety. “It may mean they haven’t devoted staff time to training, to using equipment or cleaning procedure, or it might be that they haven’t devoted money to pest-proofing because we do see pest problems in some of the premises.”
Dr Hegarty says these should not be seen as a barometer for the entire food service sector.
“When you consider that there are approximately 50,000 food businesses, it’s still a relatively small number – but yes, it is surprising that there are any number of places that don’t realise that they have to keep pests out of their premises. Or they don’t realise that it’s a problem if a premises is caked in dirt and that it takes an inspector closing them before they realise it is a problem.”
Cutting corners on hygiene and staff training is a false economy, according to Dr Hegarty.
“When businesses are closed for a short interval they’re not bringing in money, plus, when a premises is reopened, people don’t necessarily flock back to a place that’s been closed because of significant food breaches. Customers can vote with their feet and might say ‘actually we won’t chance it’. It’s very, very serious for businesses to be closed by the inspectors.”
Ethnic food businesses still account for a significant number of food safety breaches. Dr Hegarty says the authority has targeted this sector with initiatives such as using native Chinese speakers in food safety training and providing training materials in several languages.
“A very significant portion too are home grown,” Dr Hegarty adds. “Food safety and hygiene rules don’t discriminate and neither do our inspectors.”