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Cockroaches, raw sewage, and a live rodent - here's why Irish food businesses were shut down in 2016

62 Irish restaurants and takeaways were shut last year for an awful lot of different reasons.

shutterstock_451881523 Source: Shutterstock/AppleZoomZoom

IN IRELAND, THE consumer can rest relatively easy, safe in the knowledge that the standards of hygiene and safety in our food-selling establishments are well-monitored.

Over 39,000 public-facing establishments were checked last year by the HSE’s food safety officers, on contract from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). A miniscule amount, less than 1%, fail that process.

Nevertheless, some do fail. And not all are establishments you may never have heard of.

Reasons for closure

Once a month, the FSAI releases a list of those businesses that have failed their inspections, and have been temporarily closed as a result. The reasons are, as a rule, not divulged.

Under Freedom of Information legislation however, TheJournal.ie has seen documentation of every closure order issued in 2016.

One of the businesses closed last year was Fade Street Social, an upmarket Dublin eatery owned by renowned chef Dylan McGrath and located in the south city centre. The closure lasted for just one day last July.

fade street Fade Street Social Source: Google Maps

At the time the restaurant told the Irish Times that the enforcement order placed on it had resulted from a “minor drain/plumbing issue”. The report from that order suggests the problem was one of pest control, specifically:

Presence of rat droppings, suspected contamination, suspected rodent access points.

fsai4 Source: FSAI

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie on the matter, a Fade Street Social spokesperson said:

We acknowledged that there was a plumbing/drainage issue on 15 July 2016, about which we immediately informed our customers via our website.
A drain situated on the outside of the property was identified as a potential problem or suspected access point. In addition, and this is extremely important to note, all evidence of suspected activity was isolated to the outside drains and perimeter.
We closed the restaurant immediately to fix the outside drain. At no point were there ever any sightings (of pests) by the HSE. In addition, there were absolutely no issues with food preparation or hygiene.
The restaurant was reopened in less than 24 hours when minor remedial action was taken to fix the drain. The HSE could only come back into the restaurant the next day, even though we had remedied the issues within two hours of the closure order being presented.
The suspected issues written on the closure order were proven to be wrong the following day. Had this been a serious issue the HSE would not have re-opened the restaurant so soon.

“We believe that we were treated very unfairly and this information… is now public knowledge and is very misleading,” they added.

In the last year, other Irish food businesses have been closed (the vast majority temporarily, some indefinitely) as a result of, amongst other things:

  • A live rodent present on the premises
  • A cockroach infestation
  • Raw sewage in a food preparation area
  • Maggots present in kitchen waste area
  • Mouldy and congealed food present in fridges
  • A bag of coal being kept on a food storage shelf
  • A storage room being used as a bedroom

Screenshot 2017-03-11 at 17.57.59 Source: TheJournal.ie

With just 62 establishments closed after 39,000 inspections, the FSAI’s threshold for shutting a business down is quite high.

You can read the 62 enforcement orders handed down in Ireland last year herehere, and here, while an overview list of all the relevant businesses can be found here.

Live rodent’

In February 2016, Stockwell Artisan Foods in Drogheda, Co Louth, was closed for three days, not just as a result of the evidence of rodent activity, but on the sighting of an actual live rodent by the inspector.

FSAI1 Source: FSAI

Stockwell Stockwell Artisan Foods, Drogheda Source: Google Maps

Inadequate pest control is one of the most common reasons cited when delivering a closure notice to any food business. This varies from having gaps through which mice and rats can gain entrance, to inadequate fly screens being in place.

In July 2016, the Spice House takeaway in Cavan Town received a closure order which lasted for two days.

The premises were described as being “in a very unclean condition”, with refrigerators “not working properly” and and an employee working with food on site who “for the duration of the three-hour inspection did not wash his hands”.

The issues of hygiene and food safety are paramount when all inspections are carried out, with a business’ adherence to HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) of especial significance. Fundamentally, HACCP means having procedures in place to make sure the food you produce is safe.

Last August, Jav’s Takeaway in Youghal, Cork (outside Dublin, Cork and Roscommon were the two counties which boasted the most businesses closed last year) was shut for three days after maggots were discovered in a waste bin.

FSAI2 Source: FSAI

Cockroaches

Shan Indian restaurant in Temple Bar, meanwhile, was closed for nine days last October after a cockroach infestation was noted upon inspection.

Two traps were observed in the kitchen containing live and dead cockroaches. A live cockroach was observed by the inspector in a storeroom, while a pest control operative employed by the company confirmed that “the cockroach infestation had been ongoing since June of 2016″, four months prior to the inspection.

Shan Shan, Temple Bar Source: Google Maps

fsai3 Source: FSAI

Cross-contamination between raw and cooked food, and other ‘high risk’ foodstuffs such as rice, is a consistent problem. Many food workers are simply inadequately trained regarding food safety. Professional kitchens are expected to be segregated, with risky foods kept apart.

In many of the businesses that were closed, ignorance of regulations led to raw chicken for example being kept in close contact with other foodstuffs in many cases, and cooked food being kept at inappropriate temperatures.

Ruby King in Roscommon, which was shut for eight days in September, was found to have had its temperature monitoring records filled out for the day of the inspection “by a staff member that was not present in the premises on the day of the inspection”.

Foodstuffs on-premises are often not at an optimum standard of freshness, to put it mildly.

Mad Cow Milkshakes, in Cabra, north Dublin, had a closure order placed on it in February 2016 (the order was lifted the same day). The order appears to have been a more general one with many infractions cited, such as “congealed food” being found in a fridge. Nevertheless, the order was very promptly lifted.

ashf Ashford Oriental Source: Google Maps

The kitchen of Ashford Oriental, in Ashford, Co Wicklow,  was found to be in a “filthy condition” in parts. The inspector also found a broken dishwasher. Meat of a “greenish colour” was found in the fridge and the inspection team “disposed of (it) immediately”. A staff member on duty acknowledged they had booked a food training course, but had not attended.

The restaurant’s closure order was lifted five days later.

Meanwhile, the Roma Grill in Boyle, also Co Roscommon, was shut for 26 days in November for a litany of reasons, one of which was a freezer room “not in proper working order”.

“A mechanical breakdown of the freezer room occurred two days prior to inspection,” the report reads. “Frozen food was not removed from the freezer room and left to defrost in the freezer room.”

There was no reason to believe this food was not intended to be refrozen and cooked for sale to customers.

Well-known

Fade Street Social, mentioned above, is not the only well-known name to appear on the closures list.

A Starbucks outlet in Waterford City was also the subject of an enforcement order lasting eight days in September 2016. That order related to an issue which the restaurant blamed on a “water drainage rupture”.

The closure order states that:

Raw sewage (was) present in the food storage area and patron seating area in (the) lower ground floor… Food deliveries in green crates and boxes were seen during inspection on the contaminated floor area.

Relish restaurant in Dundrum was shut for three days in April following the discovery of “an extensive leak of foul-smelling liquid” and a microwave in “an extraordinarily poor state of repair”.

More unusual reasons for censure are listed on some of the enforcement orders released.

In December the Ali Baba takeaway in Rathkeale was served with a closure order that lasted for just one day. The order was issued for several reasons, one of which was the fact that a dry goods store on the premises was being used as a bedroom:

A mattress, complete with bed linen, was found on the floor where the shelving had been, along with a plugged-in electrical heater.

fsai5 Source: FSAI

The aforementioned Roma Grill in Boyle, meanwhile, among its other infringements, sported a “bag of coal” which was being kept on a storage rack.

Such oddities aside, most inspections concentrate on the key areas of cleanliness, food safety, pest control, and staff hygiene (no hot water or staff changing facilities is a consistent bugbear cited in the closure orders released).

“Nearly every premises gets inspected,” says Dr Bernard Hegarty of the FSAI. “And they’re risk-categorised depending upon the nature of what they’re selling, if they’re selling cooked food as opposed to raw meat for example.”

The places inspected will be looked at more than once per year, and possibly more than that. It’s certainly the case that a place that has raised flags will be followed up.

The nature of inspections, or certainly in how those inspections are written up, varies from officer to officer as you might imagine. Some are brief and to the point (the Fade Street Social example being the most succinct of all), some are either extremely lengthy, or are delivered in the format of a giant number-list.

20170309_Restaurant_Closures (1) Source: Chart: Statista

Likewise, the length of time it takes for an order to be lifted varies greatly. Some are gone on the same day. The El Grito Mexican Kitchen in Dublin’s Temple Bar took 224 days to lift its ban, which was first handed down last May, however.

Hegarty says that after an order has been passed it’s “up to the management to keep the place clean and to keep the staff trained”. “If they slip again then further enforcement action will be necessary.”

Inspections are carried out by local agents of the HSE (there were 304 such agents employed by the executive in 2015 – simple maths dictates that each agent is therefore looking at over 100 businesses annually). There is no quota for inspection (not surprising given the sheer amount of businesses looked at), although a “guidance note” sets a frequency for which inspections need to be carried out, according to Hegarty.

“That’s at least twice a year for high risk premises, and possibly every few years for the lower-risk businesses,” says Hegarty.

So how many of these inspections result from actual customer complaints?

“We had over 2,000 complaints from the public in 2015 (the figure was 3,202 in 2016),” says Hegarty. “They’re all followed up after being passed to the HSE and assessed. If there’s validity, say if several people have gotten sick, they’re assigned priority.”

Such complaints, per the FSAI itself, include cigarette butts being found in chip bags, a human nail in a takeaway meal, and a live insect being found in a packaged dessert.

“We do get a lot of unique complaints, that’s undeniable,” says Hegarty.

Read: Ireland’s dirtiest restaurants and takeaways: Here’s where they are

Read: Jack Nealon’s pub on Capel street is closing after over 100 years

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