Sayers the Bakers has been fined £170,000 after admitting 13 breaches of food safety laws at a shop and a café in Liverpool.
One customer vomited after finding mouse droppings on the pasty she was eating, Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday (2 March).
Images presented to the court showed mouse droppings in a kitchen and food storeroom, a dead rodent lodged behind a freezer and debris across the premises.
The charges related to two sites: the Sayers-owned Pound Bakery and Café, in St John’s Shopping Centre in Liverpool city centre, and the Sayers bakery branch in the West Derby suburb of the city.
The court heard staff at the Pound Café had failed to deal with an extensive rodent infestation after a customer contacted Liverpool Council’s environmental health team on 12 February 2016.
Johnathan Ball, prosecuting on behalf of Liverpool City Council, said: “The customer explained that they had taken a bite out of the pasty and had subsequently vomited after noticing the droppings on the surface of the pasty, close to the portion they had just eaten.
“Officers were clearly concerned by the nature of the referral and decided to visit the premises that day.”
The inspection found evidence of a serious rodent infestation and managers agreed to immediately close the café.
Ball said mouse droppings were discovered in the main kitchen area, the storeroom and the basement, along with debris and grease.
The court heard a dead mouse was found behind a freezer in the basement, and the single wash basin provided for staff was blocked by equipment.
Ball said: “The amount of droppings throughout the premises indicated that rodent activity had been on-going for a significant period of time.”
The café was inspected on 15 February last year, when it was awarded a zero-star hygiene rating (meaning urgent improvement is necessary). It later reopened.
A follow-up inspection on 22 August – at the request of Sayers managers – uncovered a rotting mouse corpse under the food counter.
“Officers commenced that inspection in the front counter area of the café and noticed an unpleasant odour,” said Ball. “A dead mouse was subsequently discovered on a snap trap under the counter and it appeared to officers that the mouse had been there for a number of days.”
The café was given a one-star rating and representatives from the company were interviewed under caution.
Separate proceedings were also under way after a random inspection at the West Derby branch on 7 December 2015 that found evidence of an extensive cockroach infestation.
Ball said cockroaches were found caught in traps on the floor, and behind a fridge and freezer.
The court heard the 100-year-old company, which operates 169 stores, fully co-operated with the investigation and that both branches have since been awarded the highest five-star rating for hygiene.
James Heyworth, defending Sayers, said: “It is a source of real regret to the company that their own systems failed on this particular occasion. They have done what the court would expect them to do in terms of their conduct afterwards.”
Heyworth also pointed out that the mouse infestation at Pound Café came during major refurbishments to St John’s Shopping Centre, which he claimed caused the displacement of rodents in the building.
He described the issues as an “uncharacteristic lapse”, adding that staff at the store - many who have worked there for a number of years - have been very upset by what went on last year.
“They very much take pride in their work, as does the management.”
When contacted by British Baker, Sayers said in a statement: "Poundcafe in St Johns Shopping Centre, like many other businesses in Liverpool City Centre, was unfortunately affected by the considerable amount of construction work taking place late 2015, early 2016.
"This gave us challenges in relation to mouse infestation as their normal nests were disturbed. Unfortunately, we had an isolated incident in St Johns which should not have occurred. Health and hygiene is our top priority and this is the first time we have ever been charged with such an offence. We have now invited Liverpool City Council to re-inspect the shop to back up our thorough audit results. In addition we are appealing against the level of the fine.”