Two dead baby mice being found in an own-label loaf you have supplied to a major supermarket customer must be right up there among the top 10 worst things that could happen to a plant baker.
It may sound like the stuff of urban myth, but bizarre as it is, the episode did occur in September 2004.
The supermarket in question, Somerfield, and the supplier, British Bakeries, have had over a year to assess what happened, make any necessary changes to procedure, and
prepare for the negative publicity that the ensuing court case inevitably generated. And, as what Somerfield admitted was a “nightmare” situation unfolded, the fact the supermarket has stood by its major plant bread supplier must have been a great consolation.
The case, which is British Bakeries’ only prosecution on pest control grounds in 10 years, finally conclu-ded this week. The verdict that it had supplied food unfit for human consumption, and the subsequent £7,000 fine, was unsurprising under the circumstances.
While the case could be seen as a black mark against British Bakeries – with extra checks and inspections ordered by Somerfield – the continuing supply deal speaks volumes about the supermarket’s conviction that its supplier was the victim of an isolated infestation at its Avonmouth bakery – a circumstance Somerfield is confident will not be repeated.
British Bakeries has, of course, apologised to the customer who made the gruesome discovery. But it also stresses the mouse infestation at the bakery was isolated.
The fact that baby mice ended up in a loaf is highly unusual in itself. The loaf had been baked and sliced before a mouse entered it. The baby mice were then born in the bread, which also contained droppings. Sabotage has been ruled out.
According to pest control experts called in by British Bakeries after the incident, baby mice are laid in nests. The mother mouse must have been disturbed to have burrowed through packaging and placed them in the loaf.
While the odds are well stacked against anything like this happening, the news serves as a timely reminder to all bakers that pest control must be a priority and that bakers should ensure efficient measures and regular thorough checks are in place.
It is easy to be wise in hindsight, but British Bakeries’ experience suggests it’s a much better idea to act wisely in advance.