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Rodent infestation: Tesco makes ‘unreserved apology’

19 July 2013

©Central News
©Central News

Tesco executives have issued an ‘unreserved apology’ at Westminster Magistrates’ Court following the discovery of a rodent infestation at one of its flagship stores.

An investigation at the Tesco Metro in Covent Garden revealed mouse droppings on the shop floor and on bakery packaging, as well as what has been described as a ‘super mouse’ that had been feeding on food stocks.

Around 55,000 shoppers use the Tesco Metro every week.

Health inspectors also discovered food waste across the warehouse and storage areas, grease and dirt on the floors, broken doors, pipes and loose ceiling tiles, which enabled rodents to enter food areas at the Bedford Street store. With dead rodents littering the warehouse, the health inspectors issued an emergency hygiene prohibition notice and closed the store. 

Customers alerted Westminster City Council after spotting mice scurry across the shop floor on 23 March last year. Environmental health officers warned staff there was a mice infestation, but the janitor was left to clean the store before a second inspection three days later.

Health inspectors then had to issue an emergency hygiene prohibition notice and close the store when they found that virtually no progress had been made.

Paul Sharkey from Westminster City Council said that during the inspection a number of breaches of food hygiene regulations were uncovered. 

“The first visit by an environmental health officer was after a complaint was made by a member of the public about a mouse being sighted on 23 March 2012,” he told The Daily Mail.

“A further complaint was received from a member of the public on 26 March about pests in the store. As this was the second complaint within five days, it was decided to visit the store again and see what progress had been made.

“Two officers spoke to the store manager who said cleaning work had not been completed and that Rentokil should have been called which had not happened. The officers then inspected the bakery and found a large number of mouse droppings on plastic storage boxes and 17 mouse droppings where pastry was kept. Food debris was also found in the bakery on top of shelves.

“There was poor pest proofing with the suspended ceiling often used by mice in the building as ‘runways’. The floor of the kitchen was very dirty. No cleaning had taken place since the first inspection three days before. In the dairy area one of the officers was overcome with a strong smell of decomposing pests in the unit.

“Mouse droppings were found on packaging of items in the bakery and on plastic containers. Given the density of the mouse droppings, the officers decided that there was a large risk of contamination in the fridge. There was clear gnawing of other packaging and pieces of raw chicken had been eaten.

“There was multiple mouse droppings on the chicken.”

Two days after officers ordered the store to close, a random inspection also had to be abandoned because mouse droppings were still found in the store’s shop and basement floors.

Mark Watson, representing Tesco, said: “I make an unreserved apology on behalf of the company for the conditions of the premises and the offences that arose from these premises. Its 3100 stores do generally maintain very high standards.

“There was in the aftermath a full review of management structures and maintenance staff. The store manager was replaced and full retraining of all staff took place.”

District Judge John Zani was shown pictures taken by health inspectors in which live mice could be clearly seen. He said the store’s failing of the third health inspection proved that it had not put its customers first. 

“On a further inspection environmental health officers had to be sent away - a store that had 55,000 customers a week,’ he said. “If I were a member of the public I wouldn’t be bothered or concerned if it was the local manager’s fault. If I contracted food poisoning there is no point saying: ‘I’m sorry - that manager wasn’t very good and has been replaced’. That manager was good enough to be employed by Tesco as of that date.

Judge Zani could have fined Tesco up to £30,000 but decided his powers were insufficient and sent the case for sentence at Southwark Crown Court.

The court heard Rentokil had first identified the mouse infestation in January 2012 yet little had been done by store staff to get rid of the rodents.

The supermarket chain has been fined three times since 2008 for breaching food hygiene practices at stores in Cardiff, Ipswich, and Towcester, Northamptonshire.

Tesco will face sentencing at Southwark Crown Court at a later date after pleading guilty to six counts relating to food hygiene offences at the Bedford Street store.

Judge Zani could have fined the supermarket a maximum of £5000 on each of the six offences but a judge crown court will have greater sentencing powers.

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