A former butcher in England was fined this week after his business was linked to a Listeria outbreak. Officials said it was one of the biggest environmental health investigations the authorities have ever had.
Robert Bowring of Bowring Butchers was prohibited from managing any food business during sentencing at Nottingham Crown Court. While he is not allowed to manage food processes and production, he will be able to undertake tasks such as deliveries.
The Mansfield District Council launched an investigation in April 2019 after being told by Public Health England East Midlands, now the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), that whole genome sequencing had linked two cases of listeriosis to Bowring. The suspected source was Bowring Butchers and potted beef.
The court was told about the death of Kathleen Ferguson who was admitted to hospital after becoming ill. Listeria was found in a blood sample, confirming listeriosis, although cause of death was recorded as heart disease. Analysis revealed that the bacteria in Ferguson’s blood was from the same source as those in samples taken in Bowring’s premises, where she was a regular customer. Two care homes had also been supplied with meat by Bowring.
Sentencing Judge Nigel Godsmark said although Ferguson died with, rather than of, listeriosis, the consequences could have been serious, particularly for vulnerable and elderly people in care homes.
Inspection uncovered issues
Bowring admitted eight food safety and hygiene charges in court in 2021 but sentencing had been delayed. He was fined £25,000 ($33,500) plus £40,000 ($53,600) in costs.
Godsmark said Bowring hadn’t put profit before safety but the 58-year-old had a blind spot, let things slip and if he had taken on too much, should have employed someone else.
The council’s environmental health team found Listeria monocytogenes in cooked meat products and on food production equipment at the premises on High Street, Mansfield Woodhouse. Bowring was the owner and registered operator of the business during the investigation in April 2019.
An inspection revealed cross contamination was not adequately controlled between raw and ready-to-eat food preparation areas; once produced, potted beef was given a seven-day shelf life, but no records to support this have ever been produced and there was dirt in equipment used to produce the potted beef.
Officers found there was no record of when various ready-to-eat products had been produced and many were not labeled with a use-by date. Despite the council recommending the shop be closed for deep cleaning, it was still trading the next day.
Officials visited the business after it did shut and advised that cracked walls and floor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned and sealed. The store was told to dispose of a dirty, moldy refrigerator and to hand over its sandwich fillers along with salad items found in the raw meat chiller, and 32 vacuum packed joints of cooked meat which either had no use-by dates or dates that had expired.
After testing confirmed Listeria contamination, the shop was advised to recall all cooked sliced meat and potted beef spread. A product recall notice should have been displayed on site and a statement made on the shop’s Facebook page advising customers not to eat the affected products. However, the council found no recall notice and a misleading sign on the shop door.
The shop was allowed to reopen and sell raw meat products in May 2019 after sampling showed cleaning had been effective.
Barrister Tim Pole, on behalf of the council, said: “Many of the failings had been highlighted on previous inspections and yet there was a failure to address those shortcomings and to comply with the law in a manner that can properly be described as flagrant.
“There was an obvious and high risk of cross contamination between raw and cooked areas. There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to conceal the failure to accurately record use-by dates and there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public as to the issues the business faced.”
Since the incident, Bowring has passed running of the business to his children. A consultant was appointed, there has been a refit of the premises, staff have been retrained and new processes and procedures are in place. The shop now has a food hygiene rating of four, which means “good.”
Marion Bradshaw, from the council, said she was pleased with the outcome of the case, which was one of the biggest environmental health investigations the authority has ever had.
“It involved months of painstaking work by our environmental health officers, working closely with Public Health England and neighboring local authorities. This case serves as a reminder to food businesses that they have a legal duty to follow food hygiene law and we will always seek to take enforcement action where there is a risk to public health.”
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