Off licence owner fined for selling food gnawed by mice

SELLING food that had been gnawed by mice cost a shopkeeper almost £5,000 in court fines.

Abdul Ghafoor, 58, who operated Tina’s Off Licence on Windlestone Road, Billingham, was fined £3,201 and ordered to pay £1,541.33 in costs, and a £120 victim surcharge after admitting nine food hygiene offences at Teesside Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

Environmental Health officers from Stockton council found the shop in a filthy state with mouse droppings throughout, on the floor and stock in the back storerooms, under the serving counter, the shop shelves and next to boxes of open sweets.

The court heard there was food on sale that appeared “heavily gnawed” and the contents partially eaten, empty food packaging and half-eaten food found on the floor, as well as some uneaten pest bait.

Officers from the council visited the shop after receiving reports of “pest activity” in the area.

They also found food beyond its ‘use by’ date was still on sale.

The court was told that the shop walls, floors and shelves were dirty, there was no hot water to the hand wash basin and an insufficient flow of cold water meant that effective hand washing was not possible.

The front door and roller shutter were poorly fitted and the storeroom door was rotten with a large hole in it.

Mr Ghafoor voluntarily closed the premises for six days to clean the shop and ultimately employ a pest control contractor and set up a preventative pest control contract but Environmental Health officers found mouse droppings on the shop shelves and two gnawed packets of food during a further visit in May this year.

In mitigation, Mr Ghafoor said he was aware of rodent activity when he took over the business five years ago but thought it was now under control.

He also said he was in hospital in May but accepted that hygiene in the premises was poor.

He still runs the shop but it has been checked by environmental health since and found to be satisfactory.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, Councillor Steve Nelson, said: “Environmental Health officers work constantly to inspect food premises and we are always happy to offer advice and support to operators and owners.

“In this case, the food business operator volunteered to put things right but unfortunately the unacceptable level of hygiene and poor state of cleanliness was immediately apparent during our subsequent inspection of the premises in May.

“I hope this prosecution sends a clear message to food business operators – people have the right to expect high food hygiene standards in places where they go to eat and in shops that sell food, which is why we will always take action to protect the public against those who flout the law.”

Mr Ghafoor could not be contacted for comment.

Anyone with concerns about a food business can contact the Council on 01642-526569 or check hygiene ratings on the Food Standards Agency website

House Mouse on a loaf of bread in a bakery in Sunderland