Restaurant chain TGI Friday's has been fined £30,000 after pleading guilty to a catalogue of hygiene offences uncovered by Westminster Council health inspectors last year.
The company's flagship London restaurant in Covent Garden was shut down on 2 July 2008 after a pile of dead cockroaches, mice droppings and grease-smeared cabinets were found in the filthy kitchen.
The £66,000 six-day clean-up operation caught 65 mice before reopening on 8 July 2008. Other offences included failures to supply hot water to the hand basins, sufficiently clean the bar area and mice droppings on open packets of food and by drinking straws.
Councillor Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for community safety, said: "These were appalling hygiene breaches, particularly for such a renowned restaurant chain which frankly, should have known better. We hope this serves as a lesson to all food businesses that such poor standards are not acceptable and that we will always push for the strongest possible punishment against offenders.
"The restaurant industry is a vital part of our economy, and we will not tolerate any behaviour which could jeopardise it or the safety of our millions of visitors."
The company pleaded guilty to six offences under the Food Hygiene (England Regulations 2006 at the City of Westminster Magistrates on Wednesday 26 August. It was ordered to pay the maximum fine of £5000 for each offence, in addition to covering the council's cost.
Environmental health manager James Armitage said after the hearing: "A restaurant of the size and stature of TGIs should be an exemplar to others, but this is one of the worst cases I've ever come across and the restaurant was virtually a breeding ground for rodents. It was made all the worse by the fact that staff had known about the mice infestation for over a year."
The investigation took place after the council received six separate complaints from customers who claimed to have seen rodents in the restaurant. Mice pose serious risks to human health and have been linked to Salmonella and Campylobacter pathogens, as well as meningitis and haemorrhagic fevers.
Restaurant closures for health risks are very rare. Out of 5,500 eateries in Westminster, the council orders closure for as few as 12 each year.
Westminster City Council is offering free pest control training to restaurant managers following a 100% increase in closure orders. The council wishes to highlight the importance of having a professional contractor to prevent pests and show businesses how to spend their money wisely.
To find out more about the free pest control training, contact icky Flatman from the Food Team on 020 7641 2334.
By Lesley Foottit
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