Record fine for Northern Irish E.coli outbreak was completely avoidable

13 May, 2015
By Stuart Kelly

Last week, Flicks Restaurant of Belfast, was fined a record £110,000 for causing the largest E.coli occurrence ever recorded in Northern Ireland.

The 2012 outbreak resulted in 141 incidents of illness, with 19 customers requiring hospital treatment. Belfast Council also noted that it was ‘extremely fortunate that no lives were lost.’

Perhaps most disturbingly the incident would have been entirely avoidable had staff at the restaurant been adequately trained and encouraged to follow best practice for food safety.

A Public Health Agency report submitted following the sentencing noted that a member of the kitchen staff had been working while ill with diarrhoea. The staff member’s condition has been linked to the outbreak. 

Struggling through work when you’re ill may be commended in some environments, but in the food and drink sector it can have devastating consequences. All staff in the industry should be aware of the need to remain at home when ill and avoid food preparation duties. 

While such isolated incidents can happen, a report from a senior EHO at Belfast Council also noted that on a previous visit they observed a lack of staff responsibility at the venue, no soap or towels in the wash-hand basins and a ‘tick box’ HACCP system in place.

All are likely to have impacted on overall food safety standards and suggest that Flicks’ staff had not received appropriate training.  Ensuring your staff are up-to-date with legislation, understand their responsibilities and have a solid grounding in food safety, hygiene and quality control is vital if a business is to ensure that it meets its responsibility to its customers.

While it’s the six figure fine which will provide the headlines, it’s the lack of food safety culture at Flicks and the potential loss of life which is the real story. The one lesson to be learned is that if you’re not going to invest in staff training and manage safety to the highest possible standard, you’re leaving yourself open to an incident which could cost both lives and money as well as irreversible reputational damage.

Staurt Kelly is Acoura’s Managing Director for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure. Acoura have been providing food safety solutions to restaurants, pubs and hotels since 1988. To find out how we can help protect your business call +44(0)330 024 0255. 

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