More than 400 mice caught after the scale of the contamination shut the building
Discount retailer Poundstretcher has been fined £30,000 after a “huge” rodent infestation at its distribution centre in Huddersfield.
Environmental health officers discovered mouse droppings across the 330,000 square foot warehouse on a visit in March which led to the premises on the Trident Business Park in Deighton being closed for decontamination.
Over 400 mice were caught in the next few days before it reopened for business, Leeds Crown Court heard today (Friday).
Miles Barker, prosecuting, told the court a letter had been sent to the warehouse after an earlier visit in October following a complaint about the state of a palette delivered to a particular store and they were told improvements would be made.
However, another complaint was received from Norfolk on March 19 about items on a palette being gnawed and contaminated with mice nesting material.
That led to a return visit to the warehouse on March 21 by Kirklees Environmental Health officers when the “huge rodent infestation” was discovered mainly of mice but also traces of rats.
He told the court there was considerable health risk to staff from diseases spread particularly from rodent urine with them handling items without knowing it had been contaminated. There were 350 employees on site.
The centre did not distribute fresh food but items such as fizzy drinks, tea, coffee, cereal, crisps and confectionary.
He said initially boxes of sardines were found to have been contaminated with mouse droppings and the damaged goods were being removed when it was realised the scale of the infestation was much wider.
Juice cartons and dog food packaging was also discovered to have been damaged as well as mice in some fur cushions. When droppings were then seen around the warehouse a decision was made to stop all deliveries from the premises.
Mr Barker said a loading bay area was found not to have been cleaned for years and a suitcase was discovered with mice nesting inside. He said it appeared “food safety and cleanliness had taken a back seat” to distribution pressures.
The court was told the company spent £60,000 over the next few days “blitzing” the premises and making repairs.
Simon Bickler, QC, representing Poundstretcher said the company wanted to apologise for the breaches. Once they were brought to the senior managers’ attention they had been prioritised and dealt with and had clearly arisen over recent weeks since nothing was found on the earlier visit.
He said mice infestation was “a fact of life which cannot be completely eradicated but they now have a system in place to deal with it as best they possibly can.”
Fortunately there were no reports of ill health to workers or members of the public. He said damaged goods would not be put on sale in any event.
Poundstretcher admitted five breaches of food safety and hygiene procedures relating to conditions at the premises involving pest control, maintenance, supervision and training of food handlers. They were also ordered to pay £5,914.60 costs.
Sentencing the firm Judge Christopher Batty said it appeared they had not paid sufficient heed to the company that advised them on pest control who had highlighted the need for improved cleanliness and maintenance in previous reports.
He said one experienced environmental health officer said she had never seen such an infestation in 30 years. He said the staff were probably under more pressure to get deliveries out quickly than to conditions around them.
The risk to customers was limited but that was not the position for staff who were being expected to handle products which had been contaminated.
“Plainly there have been no instances of illness or harm from the failures but that is only by good fortune,” Judge Batty added.
It would seem to me that Poundstretcher were badly let down by their pest controller. Either they weren’t informed of the seriousness mouse infestation they had onsite or they weren’t told at all that they had a rodent problem. If you would like pest control and are in the north east of England, please get in touch.