Swindon Council has named what it calls its 'top ten worst premises for food hygiene' but somebody who runs one of the establishments is critical of the tone and content of the council's media notice and what has appeared on its website.
The council's press release starts by declaring 'A Mexican restaurant, two kebab takeaways, a Chinese restaurant and a hotel are some of the latest venues to receive zero stars for food hygiene in Swindon.
It goes on to identify La Casa Mexican restaurant and takeaway in Devizes Road and Cosmo Oriental restaurant in Linden Court, Walcot Kebab and Pizzeria in Sussex Square, and Oriental Express in Clive Parade and the Ivy Hotel in Wroughton as receiving the lowest possible scores from Swindon Borough Council's Commercial Regulation Team.
It goes on to say 'they make up a list of the top ten worst food businesses that have received a zero star rating for hygiene this year.'
The premises were graded in the first 7 months of the year under the council’s 'Scores on Doors scheme' which publishes the ratings at www.swindon.gov.uk/scoresondoors
Food businesses are awarded stars to show how well they comply with food safety legislation. The scheme is based directly on the risk assessment that is carried out by law during a food inspection. A score of one star is deemed poor, two is satisfactory, three is good, four is very good and five is excellent.
However Matt Holland of Lower Shaw Farm, which is included in the council's name and shame list has described the council's press treatment of the inspection report as 'inaccurate, alarmist, and prejudiced.'
He said, "doubtless, the health officers' intentions are to be helpful and improve hygiene, and this is an unquestionably good thing. But to send out a press release written in this way could be counter productive.
"The press officers' job is to present the facts, not write the story for the local media. I'm very concerned about the manner, style, and content of the press release and would like to raise the following questions:
1. Why is a Council press officer writing emotive headlines and inaccurate copy? For example, in the third paragraph of the release, the following statement is not true and is possibly even defamatory. "They make up a list of the top ten worst food businesses . . . . " What makes them "the top ten worst food businesses"? They may be very good food businesses that have simply not met a few hygiene requirements when inspected.
2. When at least half the named outlets are 'English' in style and cuisine, why, in the opening paragraph, has the council press officer singled out three that are not?
3. At least one of the places on the list, namely Lower Shaw Farm, was inspected as long ago as March, and asked to make some changes, to bring an old farmhouse kitchen and procedures up to scratch to meet current twenty-first century hygiene standards.
This was swiftly done and the farm kitchen was re-inspected in May, following which it received an entirely satisfactory report and rating.
Therefore, the information about Lower Shaw Farm in the press release is completely out of date. I would expect many other premises to have dealt with the problems raised by the health inspector very quickly.
The fact that the rating are only reviewed annually should be made clear so as not to mislead the public."
• Since the Scores on Doors scheme was introduced in Swindon in April 2007, 1,159 inspections of food businesses have been completed by environmental health officers, who sit within the Commercial Regulation Team. The 10 premises rated with zero stars are (name and address – date of last inspection):
• Hythe Road Stores, Hythe Road 21/01/2009
• Lower Shaw Farm, Old Shaw Lane 03/03/2009
• La Casa, 6 Devizes Road 19/05/2009
• Princetons Grill, 8 Market Street 22/05/2009
• M Nawaz Food Store, 105 Broad Street 18/06/2009
• Oriental Express, 8 Clive Parade 21/07/2009
• Cosmo Restaurant, Linden Court, Holbrook way 09/07/2009
• UK Leisurewear, In House Catering, Unit 1 Westmead Drive 15/07/2009
• Walcot Kebab & Pizzeria, 14 Sussex Square 08/07/2009
• Ivy Hotel, Moormead Road, Wroughton (16/07/2009)
Swindon Borough Council has an enforcement policy and tries to work with businesses to achieve compliance of the hygiene standards. Prosecution is the last resort. Premises with zero stars are served with a hygiene improvement notice which explains what businesses need to do and by when.
Zero stars indicate unacceptable hygiene conditions and almost total non-compliance with statutory obligations. Premises with zero star ratings are often found to have poor hygiene, poor cleaning and risk of cross contamination. In the most serious cases, the council has the authority to use emergency closure powers. In addition to receiving a certificate, each business receives a full food hygiene report, detailing what needs to be done to comply with the law and recommended good practices to help improve the business even further.
Where the breaches of hygiene law are so serious as to pose an imminent risk to public health – and particularly where premises have received advice in the past – formal enforcement action, including prosecution and/or emergency hygiene prohibition notices, can be used.