Café owner fined £1,000 after mould, flies and old meat found on site
PUBLISHED: 18:33 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:02 13 March 2019
A Suffolk café owner who admitted breaching a string of hygiene and safety regulations has been spared a ban – but will still have to fork out a hefty fine.
Richard Bird, 72, pleaded guilty to breaking 17 food regulations and four health and safety rules in November last year.
He was due to be sentenced in January, but the hearing was adjourned when council prosecutors applied for a prohibition order to ban him from managing a food business.
Appearing before Ipswich Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday afternoon, the former engineer was spared a ban – but ordered to pay a fine of £1,000, plus £1,730.98 in costs, for the 21 offences.
Prosecuting for the borough council, Nigel Dulieu highlighted “dangerous” electrical faults on site, and recommended a full prohibition order on the grounds the offences were “serious” and “wide ranging”.
However, mitigating for Mr Bird, Rachel Spearing argued – while serious – the charges should be put in context.
A July inspection of the Street Level Café, in Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds, found stored food at risk of contamination, “unknown liquid” in a bucket, greasy surfaces, general refuse in a food store and an open bag of compost in the kitchen.
Baited ‘back-breaker’ rodent traps were found in a store room, which was at risk of “pest entry” and contained an open drain.
There was a dirty carpet and no water supply to an upstairs kitchen, flies were found in the food room, and holes were found in the kitchen ceiling – risking dirt, mould, and particles being shed onto food preparation areas.
The kitchen was fitted with domestic units; grills contained grease; a drill was stored next to a dusty ice cream dispenser; mould was found on a chopping board; knives were unwashed; fridge shelves were mouldy; soiled newspaper was found in a salad drawer; a chest freezer was missing its lid and covered with curtains; bins were kept with food in the rear store room; food was potentially contaminated with glass from a broken freezer lid; smoked salmon and ice cream risked cross contamination; and water treatment solution was stored in a food fridge.
Meanwhile, sausages were kept four days past their use-by date and milk was three days past its use-by date.
There was a lack of hygiene training or risk assessment, and the electrical system was old, badly maintained and “dangerous”.
Ms Spearing claimed many of the breaches occurred on the second floor of the premises, an area that had been used only for the grating of cheese and partial storage – while the ground floor served as the cafe’s hub.
She also highlighted the fact the food hygiene inspection took place on a “very, very hot day” – which explained why a window had been open on the second floor, putting the site at risk of pests.
Ms Spearing described her client as “incredibly resourceful”, claiming in many cases he had failed to dispose of certain hazardous items and foodstuffs, not through “wilful negligence”, but because he is “of a generation that will make do and mend”.
“Items out of date were being kept for personal consumption,” she said, claiming that mouldy bread spotted on site was earmarked for feeding wildlife.
Ms Spearing also pointed out Mr Bird’s “limited turnover” and the inflexibility of the listed building may have served as a barrier to maintenance and repairs.
She stressed that “steps have been taken” to remedy many of the problems, with the council now making regular visits to the premises.
Since the inspections, she said the cafe owner has invested in excess of £6,000 in repairs.
While the risk was “clearly there”, Ms Spearing argued this is not a case where any members of the public were harmed, or any food was found to be contaminated.
She said her client and his wife had expected to sell the property to fund their retirement, but were hit hard by the financial crash in 2008. Now, Mr Spearing said they do “not living a lifestyle of any luxury or comfort”, and ban coupled with significant fines could cause them serious problems.
Mr Bird was spared a ban, and ordered to pay total costs of £2,730.98.
Magistrates said his guilty plea and limited means had been taken into account.