A chef whose undercooked chicken pate left 23 Essex Rotarians with food poisoning was told by a judge today he would have faced prison if the food had caused injury or death.
Instead though, Lee Bonner, 29, who pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Magistrates Court to three food hygiene offences he was made subject of a community order, ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work and to pay £1,780 court costs.
The court was told that 30 Rotarians attended the regular South Woodham Ferrers Rotary dinner at Club Woodham and only seven avoided food poisoning.
Bonner, a chef for 12 years, who owns the Brasserie at Club Woodham and is also the chef there, previously worked at London's prestigious Savoy Hotel. He took over the franchise for the Brassiere in January this year.
He pleaded guilty to : serving chicken liver pate on 19 February this year which was unsafe and unfit for human consumption; to failing to maintain a food management system; and to failing to notify Chelmsford City Council that The Brasserie was under his control.
District Judge John Woollard told as he passed sentence that he had committed "an extremely basic mistake" which should never have happened.
"If you had caused serious injury or death you would be facing a prison sentence," he added.
Prosecutor Alastair Lockhart, for Chelmsford City Council, said the members of South Woodham Ferrers Rotary Club, aged 58-81, were poisoned by campylobacter, a bacteria which was particularly present on chicken livers and which the industry knew was a high risk food. The livers needed to be cooked thoroughly.
He continued : "Some of these chicken livers were not cooked properly and that resulted in the outbreak of food poisoning."
Mr Lockhart said Bonner told investigators the fresh chicken livers were trimmed and panfried. The core temperature of two or three were checked.
But the prosecutor said that Bonner had insufficient processes in place to ensure safe cooking and he had also failed to inform the local authority that he had taken over the former in-house restaurant operation.
Bonner's lawyer, Robert James said it was Bonner's brother Jamie, also a chef who he employed, who prepared the pate under his direction.
But he said that Bonner accepted he didn't check the temperature of enough chicken livers and that his food management system failed. He said Bonner had also now known he should have told the council he was running the Brassiere.
"He has worked in prestigious restaurants, at the Savoy Hotel, and various outside caterers and provided services to directors' dining rooms. It's the first time in 12 years as a chef such an incident has occurred," said Mr James.
"His business is continuing at Club Woodham. There has been a tremendous downturn in business but he perseveres."
Bonner, he added, was extremely remorseful and realised the consequences could have been more serious.