UK pub fined £100,000 for mouse infestation

Daniel Woolfson of The Morning Advertiser reports that Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) was slapped with a £100,000 fine after environmental health officers uncovered an infestation of mice at one of its Birmingham pubs.

The  Railway Pub, Birmingham UKThe company, which owns the Harvester and Toby Carvery, pleaded guilty to three food safety offences at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday (19 August) after inspectors discovered rodent droppings and unhygienic kitchen conditions at the Railway, Hill Street.

It was ordered to pay £105,000 as well as £9,528 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

Councillor Barbara Dring, Birmingham City Council’s licensing and public protection committee chair, said: “People should be able to have confidence in the safety of the food served and cleanliness of any food business in Birmingham – regardless of whether it’s a pub or a posh restaurant.

“We want the city’s food businesses to thrive and, as such, our officers work closely with premises to ensure they achieve the necessary standards required to operate safely.”

The Railway’s kitchen was ordered to close on the spot after the inspection on February 18 last year but was allowed to reopen two days later when inspectors returned and found improvements to have been made.

Since then it has gone on to achieve a five-star food hygiene rating.

Earlier this summer M&B admitted a breach of duty to 280 customers who were stricken with norovirus after visiting an Exeter Toby Carvery pub in April 2015.

The Exeter Arms was closed after instances of the virus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, were reported to management.

However, it continued to trade after closing for one day and more people fell ill.

Amandeep Dhillon, partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, which was instructed by the customers to investigate the outbreak, said at the time it hoped by taking legal action important lessons would be learned when it came to dealing with outbreaks of illness in similar premises.

Of course it was the eggs: 71 sick from InterContinental Adelaide buffet

Katrina Stokes of The Advertiser reports the InterContinental Adelaide buffet breakfast that made at least 71 people sick from salmonella poisoning has been linked to cross-contamination from eggs.

scrambled.eggsAn Adelaide City Council and SA Health joint investigation has identified the likely cause of the salmonella as cross contamination or inadequate cooking of raw eggs.

The total number of people struck down with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and headaches after eating the breakfast spread at the luxury hotel on Sunday, July 31, has risen to 71, including 21 people who were admitted to hospital.

InterContinental Adelaide general manager Colin McCandless said the investigation was “still ongoing”.

“What the Adelaide City Council has released is a likely cause (but) we’re still partnering with them fully to determine what the exact cause was,” he said.

That’s the same McCandless who last week said it was ‘absolutely safe’ to eat at the hotel.

SA Health chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips said the latest salmonella outbreak was another reminder of the potential risks associated with handling raw eggs.

The hotel’s $37 full breakfast buffet at the Riverside Restaurant includes scrambled eggs.

And what about those dips? Any raw eggs in those?

A selection of egg-related outbreaks in Australia can be found here.

‘It’s not for me to make sense of it, it’s the law: SF tries to justify ‘loophole’ allowing restaurants to wipe away old health scores, dangerous violations

Come to Australia, where mandatory display ain’t mandatory.

Bigad Shaban, Liza, Meak, Mark Villarreal of NBC Bay Area report that in the restaurant world, reputation is everything, especially when it comes to health inspection records.

SCC+Restaurant+Website“We have people’s lives in our hands,” said Alexis Solomou, the owner of Seven Hills in San Francisco. “You could get people very, very sick very, very quickly.”

Solomou’s restaurant boasts a near perfect health inspection score – 98 out of a 100.  He says he has worked hard for it and was upset to learn about a loophole that allows restaurant owners in San Francisco to essentially wipe away their old inspection records and health code scores from the city’s website.

“There’s no reason why anybody should hide their health inspection score or wipe it clean unless there’s something they’re trying to hide,” said Solomou.

Websites such as Yelp take restaurant inspection scores from the city’s public database and post them online to give customers easy access to the information.  But those scores can’t get posted if the city erases the information from its online database.

In May, the Investigative Unit discovered that the San Francisco Department of Public Health deletes old health inspection records from its website if a restaurant files a change of ownership with the city. The application process costs restaurants roughly $600 in city fees but offers new owners a clean slate so they are not saddled with the old health inspection scores from the previous restaurant owner.

However, the Investigative Unit revealed that even after a restaurant files an ownership change with the city, the same people can continue to run the restaurant as long as the owners list a new corporation name as part of that application.

Even in situations when new restaurant owners are listed in the application, the Investigative Unit discovered those owners are still allowed to work for the same corporation that owned the restaurant previously. So while a restaurant may have strong ties to its previous ownership, San Francisco still agrees to delete that restaurant’s old inspection records from the city’s online database.

That’s exactly what happened at a dim sum restaurant in the Diamond Heights neighborhood.  All Season Restaurant, which is officially known as Harbor Villa on city documents, had its history of repeated high-risk violations wiped clean online, even though inspectors found dead cockroaches on utensils and plates.

“It’s not for me to make sense of it; it is what the law requires us to do,” said Stephanie Cushing, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environmental Health.

Cushing and her team of 30 inspectors are in charge of permitting the roughly 7,400 restaurants and caterers throughout San Francisco. In May, Cushing told the Investigative Unit that state and local laws require her department to remove a restaurant’s old inspection records from the city’s website once they file a change of ownership application.

State Law on Restaurant Inspections

That’s simply not true, according to the California Department of Public Health. Nowhere in California’s retail food code does it state a local health department must delete a restaurant’s old health records from its website.

“The law doesn’t specify whether a historical record associated with a prior owner of a business goes with a new company or doesn’t go with a new company,” said Pat Kennelly, California’s Department of Public Health Food Safety Manager.  “The law is silent on the issue.”

Kennelly said there is nothing to keep local health departments from shutting down a restaurant for repeated health violations.

“They have the authority under existing law to be able to take action against them, to fine them, penalize them, impound their equipment, impound product, and ultimately suspend or revoke their permits if they can’t comply with the rules,” Kennelly said.

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health stopped including a restaurant’s previous ownership records online about 10 years ago. A spokeswoman for the department said consumers “only wanted to see the most current score.”  She went on to say that posting the information now “would make it very difficult for people to navigate.”

That response frustrates Solomou.

“To say that San Francisco diners, in particular, are not savvy enough to digest that information is incorrect,” Solomou said.  “I don’t know why anyone would want the wool being pulled over their eyes.”

Solomou said the issue is also one of fairness since his own restaurant’s inspection history is posted online, even though his violations were deemed “low-risk,” including a peeling wall.  He wonders why restaurants with far more serious violations are allowed to wipe their records clean, regardless of how dirty those record may have been over the years.

“To think that someone can come in and change their name … and get any blemishes squashed is scary,” Solomou said. “It really is.”

Everyone’s got a camera: Mouse-at-Sonic edition

Drive-through fast food vendor Sonic, known for their creepy television commercials, made the silver screen in a less appetizing way in Corpus Christi, Texas.

sonic-drive-ins-sonic-drive-ins-600-33126According to Jessica Hamilton of the Houston Chronicle, when the Cortez family pulled up to a Sonic Drive-In window on Saturday, they expected to be handed the four drinks they ordered. Instead, they arrived at the window to find their drinks were already being eyed by a furry friend.

In a viral video posted to Facebook, the family can be heard screaming as 14-year-old Christian Cortez records a mouse walking on the fountain drink machine at the Ayers Street location. An employee with a long stick attempts to move the mouse off the machine.

“I was really shocked to see it, especially since it was right next to our drinks,” Cortez said. “Once it went around the fountain machine an employee was still trying to give us our drinks. We told them we wanted a refund.”

The family got their money back.

A spokesperson for Sonic issued a statement Tuesday morning, stating the franchisee at the location has increased pest control measures, including two visits over the weekend.

“The drive-in is currently in good standing with the Health Department and the franchisee takes food safety very seriously. All food safety issues are acted upon immediately,” said Jason Cook, manager of communications for Sonic-In. “They appreciate the trust and confidence customers place in Sonic every day to serve them delicious and safe food. They take pride in being a good community partner and are proud of the service their employees provide to customers every day in Corpus Christi.”


Going public, Colorado-style: 16 sick with Salmonella at Oscar’s of Breckenridge

Kaeli Subberwal of Summit Daily reports that 16 employees and patrons at a popular Breckenridge taco bar came down with Salmonella poisoning in July. This outbreak led Summit County health officials to shut down the restaurant until the issue was addressed — a process that took six days.

Oscar’s of BreckenridgeMorgan Stovall had been working at Oscar’s of Breckenridge for only three shifts when the health inspectors arrived.

“I guess we knew we were getting a health inspection,” she said, “but we thought they would just come in and make sure we were using gloves and everything; but that health inspector came in with someone higher up who deals with outbreaks.”

The health inspection on July 15 was prompted by three cases of salmonella that were reported to the state health department after Oscar’s patrons went to their medical providers and were diagnosed with the foodborne illness.

“The only common exposure among the three confirmed illnesses is consuming food at Oscar’s restaurant during the week before becoming ill. Specifically, ill persons visited Oscar’s on July 1 and July 4,” read a letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to Amy Wineland, the director of Summit County Public Health.

Though Oscar’s is back in business, some workers are still suffering the consequences of the outbreak.

“It’s been nearly 3 weeks, and I’m still testing positive,” employee Brittany Doyne wrote in an email. “I feel I should be compensated for all 3 of my jobs, not just Oscar’s. I’m missing out on thousands of dollars I would have earned had Oscar’s not gotten me sick. Nearly all of what little savings I have is gone now.”

How the sick employees are being compensated while out of work is unclear.

Fine dining in Brisbane

A restaurant operator who was caught storing dodgy ice-cream balls and tenderising chicken at an ‘alarming’ temperature has been ordered to pay a hefty fine.

West End GardenMinh Tri Nguyen, who operates the restaurant West End Garden, was last week fined $37,500 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court after he pleaded guilty to a string of food safety violations.

Brisbane City Council authorities inspected the restaurant after five diners suffered food poisoning in January 2015.

Council prosecutor Mark Thomas had previously told the court that authorities had found ice cream balls, a tea towel and dish cloth contaminated with salmonella.

He also said chicken and beef had been found tenderising in a sink at a dangerous temperature.

First Denmark, now Norway for smiley-faced restaurant ratings

Nina Berglund of News in reports inspectors from Norway’s state food safety agency Mattilsynet had little to smile about after their most recent visits to 1,100 restaurants in the Oslo area. Six out of 10 restaurants failed to earn the smiley face insignia that symbolizes good hygiene. Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that only 41 percent of the eating places inspected by Mattilsynet in Oslo, Asker and Bærum were awarded the smiley face, which means they met the authorities’ standards for good hygiene.

“We of course wished that the results were better, but we’re not surprised,” Marit Kolle, division chief at Mattilsynet, told NRK. The results show a decline from national inspections earlier this year, when more than 60 percent did well and received smiley faces.

Kolle said that half the restaurants inspected most recently were given a straight face, after inspectors found deficiencies and errors in hygienic routines. “Those establishments get a warning from us that they must improve their routines,” Kolle said.

Another 9 percent were hit with a sour face symbol, meaning they flunked the hygiene inspection. Inspectors can close them on the spot if the violations are severe, or fine them.

The system of symbolizing the hygiene of restaurants was launched January 1 as a means of advising patrons about food safety inspection results. After an initial round of visits to 2,279 restaurants nationwide, around a third failed to win smiley faces.

The restaurants are obliged to post the smiley-, straight- or sour-faced symbols at their front doors. NRK reported earlier this year that Mattilsynet inspectors claimed many were failing to do so, thus “sabotaging” the program.

Restaurant inspection results are also made public on the state agency’s own website,

Lawsuit filed over 2014 Salmonella outbreak

Outbreaks cost businesses a lot: loss of reputation; bad publicity; fines, and legal woes.

According to FOX 32, two separate lawsuits have been filed following a 2014 cluster of Salmonella associated with Urban Esencia Kitchen.71d3dd3d33a2a5f586a6e98c0e7089c2

Nathan Sanders and Sara Lindsay claim in one suit that they ate at Urban Esencia Kitchen on Aug. 14, 2014. The following day, they began to suffer severe stomach cramps, chills and fever; and could not eat. Both received extensive medical treatment over the next several days and Lindsay tested positive for Salmonella, according to the suit.

Hunter Lehr claims he contracted salmonella after eating at the restaurant on August 13, 2014. The next day, Lehr began to suffer severe the same symptoms and coud not eat. He was admitted to the hospital for one week and tested positive for salmonella, the suit stated.

Each 3-count suit charges the restaurant with negligence, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty; and seeks a minimum of $90,000 in damages.

Fancy food ain’t safe food: Science to back up anectodes

In the wonderful way the Intertubes can be used to reinforce pre-existing biases, a new paper in PLOS Currents Outbreaks validates what I – and anyone who knows anything about food safety – have been saying for a long time: Fancy food ain’t safe food.

heston_blumenthalIntroduction: Restaurant guides such as the Good Food Guide Top 50 create a hierarchy focussing on taste and sophistication. Safety is not explicitly included. We used restaurant associated outbreaks to assess evidence for safety.

Methods: All foodborne disease outbreaks in England reported to the national database from 2000 to 2014 were used to compare the Top 50 restaurants (2015) to other registered food businesses using the Public Health England (PHE) outbreak database. Health Protection Teams were also contacted to identify any outbreaks not reported to the national database. Among Good Food Guide Top 50 restaurants, regression analysis estimated the association between outbreak occurrence and position on the list.

Results: Four outbreaks were reported to the PHE national outbreak database among the Top 50 giving a rate 39 times higher (95% CI 14.5–103.2) than other registered food businesses. Eight outbreaks among the 44 English restaurants in the Top 50 were identified by direct contact with local Health Protection Teams. For every ten places higher ranked, Top 50 restaurants were 66% more likely to have an outbreak (Odds Ratio 1.66, 95% CI 0.89–3.13).

Discussion: Top 50 restaurants were substantially more likely to have had reported outbreaks from 2000-2014 than other food premises, and there was a trend for higher rating position to be associated with higher probability of reported outbreaks. Our findings, that eating at some of these restaurants may pose an increased risk to health compared to other dining out, raises the question of whether food guides should consider aspects of food safety alongside the clearly important complementary focus on taste and other aspects of the dining experience.

Taste and safety: Is the exceptional cuisine offered by high end restaurants paralleled by high standards of food safety?


Sanch Kanagarajah, Piers Mook, Paul Crook, Adedoyin Awofisayo-Okuyelu, Noel McCarthy

PLOS Currents Outbreaks. August 2016. Edition 1. doi: 10.1371/currents.outbreaks.007219ac3b9a2117418df7ab629686b6.

Taste and Safety: Is the Exceptional Cuisine Offered by High End Restaurants Paralleled by High Standards of Food Safety?

E. coli free, Carbón Live reopens a month after outbreak

After more than a month, a handful of lawsuits and 68 customers affected from E. coli, Ashok Selvam of Eater reports Chicago’s health department has ruled that Carbón Live Mexican Grill can reopen.

Carbón Live Mexican GrillHowever, DNAinfo reported that the health department couldn’t determine the source of the bacteria that sickened customers. The Bridgeport restaurant had been closed since late June’s outbreak.

The owners of Carbón haven’t publicly commented since their restaurant closed, and there’s no mention on their social media channels. The health department did day that they fully cooperated with officials. They temporarily closed their West Town location and also withdrew as a vendor at The Taste of Chicago as cautionary measures.

Attorneys circled around affected customers, looking for new clients to represent in lawsuits against the restaurant. There haven’t been any updates on those cases.