A "poisoned" relationship between Compass Group's healthcare business Medirest and Mid Essex Hospital Services ended up in court after the NHS Trust withheld payment of more than £700,000.
The trust had tried to deduct more than £80,000 from its catering bill because of a day-old chocolate mousse, the court heard - a move that was criticised by a judge.
A number of deductions, including £46,320 for a box of out-of-date ketchup sachets found in a cupboard, £84,550 for a day-old chocolate mousse and £96,060 for three-day-old bagels, were described as "patently absurd" by Mr Justice Cranston.
Medirest won a multimillion -pound deal to operate catering services at St John's and Broomfield hospitals in Essex for seven years in April 2008, according to the BBC.
But the contract fell apart after the trust repeatedly made complaints and, at one point, tried to deduct more than £700,000 from the caterer's entitlements, the judge said.
The judge said the relationship between the two parties was "poisoned" when the trust refused to respond to Medirest's attempts to compromise and that neither could win damages claims after their contract ended in October 2009.
He said Medirest was entitled to end the contract because the trust had breached its contract and failed to "co-operate in good faith", but he also accepted the trust had the right to end the contract because Medirest had "accumulated the requisite number of service failure points".
In his ruling, the judge said neither the trust nor Medirest could win their claims for losses after the contract was ended.
The trust and the caterers still have financial claims outstanding against each other.
"Given the amounts already expended on this case, I very much hope that these matters can be quickly resolved by negotiation between the parties, without further resort to this court," the judge said.
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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