London restaurant fights council over rare hamburger complaint

I don’t know what a rare hamburger is. When asked how I would like a burger, I say thermometer-verified 165F. I’m met with blank stares, which I return: rare is a subjective value with little meaning.

The city council of Westminster — which includes many of the important cultural districts in the West End — served notice against London restaurant Davy’s over how they were serving their £13.95 burger. The council’s food health and safety manager commented, “It is possible to produce burgers that can be eaten undercooked, but strict controls are essential.”

Huffington Post reports Davy’s has appealed the notice to the High Court, and their decision could set a precedent for how rare and medium rare burgers are regulated going forward.

The rare burger controversy in Westminster follows several months of controversy in England over the risks posed by rare and medium-rare beef. One major UK burger chain recently committed to ending the sale of rare and medium-rare burgers, while another was hit with penalties for serving undercooked burgers

Bushmeat illegally sold by butchers in London

The country that gave the world mushy peas and mad cow disease is now discovering illegal sales of bushmeat in one of the busiest food markets in east London.

Medical Daily reports the Ridley Road Market in Dalston, in east London, is apparently known to be a hotbed of illegal activity. It is reported that butchers there conduct sales of illegal “smokies,” a delicacy made by charring goat and sheep with a blowtorch. At least two stores were found to sell “grass cutter” or cane rats, possibly imported from Ghana, where they are a luxury.

The practice of “smokies” has been outlawed due to public health and animal welfare concerns. The practice has also been linked to mafia-style gangs in Wales, who steal sheep and goats and slaughter them in unlicensed houses.

Bush meat has been a consistent problem for authorities in the UK. The illegal meat products are often smuggled in at the airports or ferries. They fear that the meat could pose risks to consumers, either through eating it or via contamination.

BBC reporter found several stores and butchers selling the meat easily, however. Though not every store participated in the practice, some were easily uncovered. All have knowledge that the practice is illegal. One butcher who sold the meat to the reporter said, “Don’t tell anyone; otherwise, there will be trouble.”

Despite the fact that these sales seem to be an open secret, the last enforcement visit to the neighborhood was conducted in 2009. Though the visit was due to a tip claiming that illegal bush meat was being sold, the investigation was inconclusive. 

London Chinese restaurant was so dirty even chef caught salmonella

The London Evening Standard reports the owner of a Chinese restaurant infested with mice and cockroaches – where even a chef suffered salmonella – has walked free from court.

Ellen Chew, of Inn Noodle in Oxford Street, has been banned indefinitely from running a catering business after being in charge of a "food hygiene disaster waiting to happen."

Southwark crown court heard how two customers, Rebecca Katisoris and Stanley Li, needed hospital treatment after being struck down with salmonella. The noodle chef was also sick.

Hygiene inspectors found the kitchens were a haven for vermin and encrusted with grease and dirt. They found evidence of cockroaches behind a fridge, mice droppings in a bowl of ginger and chilli mix, and high levels of E. coli and other bacteria in a bowl of rice.

Containers of raw meat were piled next to a sink for washing plates. Three dishcloths used to clean plates and wipe surfaces were found to have the same strain of salmonella on them.

Chew, 42, of Rotherhithe, admitted two counts of placing food deemed unsafe on the market and four counts of failing to comply with European food safety legislation. Judge Deborah Taylor imposed the ban on running a food business and gave her a six-month suspended jail sentence. She was fined £7,515 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs. She must also pay £500 compensation to the two customers who fell ill.

Sniffing uncooked chicken is not a safety measure; kebab shop source of salmonella outbreak in London

A kebab shop boss whose Shepherd’s Bush premises were the source of the worst salmonella outbreak in London for at least 15 years was spared jail on Tuesday.

Mohammed Shafique, 49, who ran the Shahi Nan shop in Uxbridge Road, admitted to food hygiene breaches which caused the poisoning of 72 people, aged between five and 72.

Isleworth Crown Court heard at least 22 victims had to be treated in hospital and were kept in for an average of four days.

Shafique, who took over the shop in 2001, told health inspectors he sniffed the uncooked chicken deliveries to check they were safe to eat.

His premises was first visited in September 2009 after reports emerged that 17 people had visited St Mary’s and Charing Cross Hospitals with food poisoning.

The numbers rose to 72 between September 9-18 – in the previous month there had been just 15 reported salmonella cases in the whole country.

Officials found traces of the bug on a light switch and in the fridge, where raw produce was stored next to cooked food, but the exact cause of the outbreak was never located.

Shafique, who admitted to four food hygiene breaches and failing to comply with EU regulations, was ordered to do 120 hours unpaid work and to pay £10,000 in fines, £1,000 costs and a £15 surcharge.

Going public: People have a right to know about outbreaks

Some public health types have long argued there is no point in making outbreaks of foodborne illness public – through media disclosure, for example – when the outbreak has passed or the food is gone and there is no on-going threat to public health.

I disagree.

Even if the threat has passed, public discussion of foodborne outbreaks enhances awareness, holds operators accountable, and builds trust and credibility for the investigating outfit (usually the local health department).

Oh, and as I told Jonathon Sher of the London Free Press (that’s in Canada) people have a right to know about events where people got sick.

Sher reports this morning that Londoners were kept in the dark about a viral outbreak at the London Hunt and Country Club after at least 25 people were stricken with suspected norovirus after a Thanksgiving buffet Oct. 11 and at least four more became ill after attending an event for medical residents on the 13th.

Cathie Walker of the Middlesex-London Health Unit said,

“We were notified Oct. 14 by an attendee who was ill.”

Public health officials didn’t reported the outbreaks to the general public and instead relied on the Hunt Club, which had e-mailed a newsletter to its members about the incident, and the organizer of the event for medical residents.

Walker defends the lack of public notification, saying people who didn’t attend the events weren’t at risk and that the private club had taken over the task of notifying those who attended.

“Health Units are loathe to report it because it creates more work but there’s value to reporting and the public has a right to know,” said Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University.

In outbreaks such as these the cause is most often a food handler who is already sick, Powell said.

Barbara Kowalcyk, director of food safety for the U.S.-based Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention said, “(A worker) would be the logical place to look.”

While kitchen staff worked at both events and some later reported be stricken with illness, it’s not clear if any of the diners attending both events — health investigators never asked to compare the lists, the Hunt Club says.

The health unit instead interviewed 29 ill people, some who responded to the Hunt Club email and others mentioned by the initial people interviewed. But health investigators didn’t speak to the roughly 370 other people who attended, Walker said.

That’s a significant oversight, said Kowalcyk, who is a statistician completing a doctorate in Environmental Health with a focus in Epidemiology.

“If they don’t even talk to people who weren’t sick, I don’t know how they can say they did an investigation,” she said.

If a sick worker was the source it’s possible he or she doesn’t know it and may be still infecting people, she said.

“(The public) may want to know that,” Kowalcyk said. “I’d think public health official would want that worker not to handle food.”

Ratatouille: mouse jumped from bowl in UK restaurant

A west London restaurant owner was criticized for an "appalling catalogue of offences" after health inspectors saw a mouse jumping from a bowl of sweet and sour sauce in the kitchen.

Press Association reports that inspectors visiting the Kam Tong, Hung Tao and Kiasu restaurants in Queensway, Bayswater, found mouse droppings all over the kitchens and cockroach eggs in the dim sum and baskets of prawn crackers.

One rodent was photographed scampering along a kitchen drainpipe in the Kam Tong restaurant after jumping from a bowl of sweet and sour sauce which was about to be served to customers.

Owner Ronald Lim, of Barnet, north London, admitted 17 counts of breaching food hygiene regulations at Southwark Crown Court.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC ordered him to pay fines totaling £30,000, plus £18,131 costs, and handed him an eight-month jail term suspended for two years.

Two weddings and an outbreak: Clostridium perfringens in London, July 2009

I didn’t even come up with that headline. Those science journal writers are developing a sense of humor.

Eriksen et al. write in Eurosurveillance today:

Food poisoning outbreaks caused by Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin occur occasionally in Europe but have become less common in recent years. This paper presents the microbiological and epidemiological results of a large C. perfringens outbreak occurring simultaneously at two weddings that used the same caterer.

The outbreak involved several London locations and required coordination across multiple agencies. A case-control study (n=134) was carried out to analyze possible associations between the food consumed and becoming ill. Food, environmental and stool samples were tested for common causative agents, including enterotoxigenic C. perfringens. The clinical presentation and the epidemiological findings were compatible with C. perfringens food poisoning and C. perfringens enterotoxin was detected in stool samples from two cases.

The case-control study found statistically significant associations between becoming ill and eating either a specific chicken or lamb dish prepared by the same food handler of the implicated catering company. A rapid outbreak investigation with preliminary real-time results and the successful collaboration between the agencies and the caterer led to timely identification and rectification of the failures in the food handling practices.

In the discussion, the authors write,

A blast chiller is normally used for cooling large quantities of food quickly by this particular caterer; however it was not being used appropriately at the time of the incident. Temperature control of foods during preparation, cooling, transportation and reheating was poor. Furthermore, the vans used for food transport had no refrigeration and these events took place in July. The evidence of insufficient hygiene, cooling and reheating at the catering company during transport and at both venues (according to environmental health department inspections) are in keeping with a toxin-related gastroenteritis outbreak, including C. perfringens.

Eateries feel the heat: Restaurant inspectors in London (Canada) are quicker to assess fines and close restaurants

London health inspectors are cracking down on restaurants with a flurry of fines and inspections one restaurateur says are the strictest he’s seen.

Jonathan Sher of the London Free Press reports that inspectors have slapped 30 tickets on 13 eateries since a series of Free Press articles in February and early-March uncovered stomach-turning practices in some commercial kitchens that persisted thanks to inspectors who were too lenient and a system of oversight that was inconsistent.

In the 14 months before the series, only nine places were fined.

Jim Reffle, the director of environmental health at the London Middlesex Health Unit.

“Our staff are working in a different environment.”

In February, The Free Press and a new health unit website gave Londoners a window into the work of inspectors.

Such disclosure leads to greater vigilance, Reffle said, but health officials also have chosen to give eateries fewer chances for repeat infractions.

A boost in enforcement is noticeable after cities start to disclose inspection results, said Douglas Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University. “More citations seem to be issued.”

That’s a good thing, he said, a view shared by Don Mercer, president of the Consumer Council of Canada.

The one thing that concerns him is the health unit website doesn’t specifically say a place was “closed” — instead it’s noted that a “Section 13” was ordered, which refers to closing an eatery.

“They should clean up the website and say places were closed,” Mercer said.

Reffle agrees and says he’ll do so. He’s also trying to make it easy for diners to get a list of all places closed or ticketed with a click of a button — for now Londoners have to scroll though thousands of food places one by one.

On Monday, city council will decide whether to adopt a bylaw that would empower inspectors to require food places to post signs for inspection results.

Flies and feces: Restaurant inspection disclosure goes online in London-lite

"What does (Powell) know about the actions of London politicians and the relationship of the city and the health unit? Probably nothing."

That was London-lite Councilor Harold Usher responding to my criticism that if London (in Ontario, in Canada) politicians wanted restaurant inspection disclosure in the form of colored signs on doors like the medical officer of health recommended 40 months ago, it would have happened faster. Just like it did in Toronto, all those years ago.

Sir, I didn’t just send my comments in by stagecoach from Kansas, I am from Brantford (in Ontario, in Canada), and have sat through numerous city council meetings involving board of health issues as both a journalist and participant in Toronto, Port Colborne, Welland, Guelph, and closer to London, Ingersoll (all in Ontario, Canada).

Coun. Susan Eagle, one of two people on the 11-member board appointed by city council, said,

"I was keen to move faster than we did . . . I’m disappointed it’s taken so long."

Jonathan Sher of the London Free Press wrote in Saturday’s edition that when London-lite restaurant inspections went online for the first time this week, so many diners logged on, the system slowed to a crawl.

Dr. Douglas Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, said,

"I think it goes back to a lack of political will. London could have done this earlier if (politicians) wanted to. Is there anyone in London who will champion the rights of diners and people who buy (prepared) food?"

London Controller Gina Barber thinks Powell has a point — while politicians support the use of coloured signs, no one made it a priority or directed staff to get the work done by a deadline.

The Free Press coverage caused a flood of diners to call the health unit, where officials promised they’d soon post inspection summaries on a long-planned website.

I also told the reporter, the best restaurants will embrace public disclosure and even promote their food safety excellence.

How to use the inspection website in London:

Access at or through the health unit’s main website,
Search for restaurants by region, by first letter or by keyword. Violations will be listed for each. ?
Click on restaurant names for dates of inspection reports, then on each date for summaries of violations and action required.?


Restaurant inspection results now available on-line for London-lite

As of 10 a.m. EST today, residents of London-lite (Ontario) can access the results of restaurant inspections back to June 2009 on-line at

Two weeks ago, London Free Press reporter Jonathan Sher ran a piece noting that local health types had promised a public disclosure system similar to Toronto’s red, yellow, green 16 months ago. The health unit had gotten busy and key personnel had departed, all reasonable explanations.

On Feb 11/10, Sher ran another piece, which disclosed that London diners unknowingly ate at places last year where inspectors found horrors from flies to feces.

Health inspectors shut down seven restaurants last year in London for stomach-turning reasons including:

* Egg noodles bound for diners were picked at first by flies that descended on an open container on a kitchen floor.

* A ventilation hood dripped grease on the food beneath.

* A restaurant with no hot water still made food — just with no place for kitchen staff to wash their hands.

* Mouse-like feces found on plates, shelves, behind the stove, on kitchen floors and behind a walk-in freezer.

* Uncovered food found on a food-encrusted floor in a walk-in fridge.

* Rags dirty from raw and cooked foods left on cutting boards.

* A restaurant with many health violations, even though a staffer had just completed the health unit’s food handling course.

If this were Toronto, red signs would have warned diners the places had been closed for something more serious than a holiday or renovation.

I told Sher there’s no doubt signs and other methods of public disclosure drive restaurants to be more careful, and that,

"They up their game . . . they don’t want the publicity.”

Today, The Middlesex-London Health Unit has launched a new, online resource for information on city restaurants.

Amazing how fast these things move with a little publicity.