Heston Blumenthal criticises Health Protection Agency at Chef Conference
Heston Blumenthal has criticised the Health Protection Agency (HPA) for the handling of its report into the food poisoning outbreak at his three-Michelin-starred restaurant the Fat Duck.
Speaking at Caterer and Hotelkeeper's 2009 Chef Conference at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London today, the celebrity chef and proprietor of the iconic restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, called on the organisation to provide more support to the industry.
The HPA released a report on its investigation into the norovirus outbreak at the Fat Duck, which affected more than 500 diners, earlier this month stating the official cause was contaminated shellfish.
The report pointed to "several weaknesses in procedures" at the restaurant including delayed response to the incident and staff working when they should have been off sick.
Blumenthal criticised the HPA for the way it released the report, arguing he and his team of insurers and legal experts were given no time to analyse its findings before it was released to the public.
"We were told we would be given 24 hours to analyse the report before it would be released to the public but in fact we were only given three hours," he said.
"There is a real lack of support to restaurants from the HPA when it comes to handling something like a norovirus outbreak and it is only because of the status of the Fat Duck that we survived this. If we were a small independent restaurant, we would have been forced to close as a result of this.
"Our industry is so fragile and there is so little support."
Blumenthal added that both the experts appointed by the Fat Duck and those by its insurers believed that there were a number of flaws in the HPA report, including its criticism of the restaurant's staff sickness policy and its use of anti-bacterial cleaning agents.
"Some of the elements in the report were supposition," he said.
Last week Blumenthal issued an official apology to the victims of the norovirus outbreak inviting each one of the affected diners to return to the Fat Duck as his guest.
He said he was unable to issue an official response to the report while his team of insurers and legal experts were analysing its findings, expressing his frustration at this.
"It was extremely frustrating to not be allowed to personally apologise to my guests until now," he said.
"It was devastating to me and my whole team the affects of February this year, as it was to many of our guests, and I wish to invite them all to return to The Fat Duck at their convenience."
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By Kerstin Kühn
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