READING Council has successfully prosecuted a Reading takeaway following serious food safety offences, including evidence of fresh rat droppings on food preparation work surfaces.
Hot Stuff (Reading) Ltd, based along the Oxford Road in west Reading was investigated by Council officers following customer complaints. The business was closed down on 2nd October 2017 due to a heavy rat infestation that affected all parts of the business.
Council officers found the business to have insufficient staff training in place, required deep cleaning and there was no food safety management system in place. The premises scored a 0 in the food hygiene rating scheme. Following the closure there was little improvement and the business failed to comply with Hygiene Improvement Notices.
Hot Stuff (Reading) Ltd and director of the company Shahbaz Mujtaba, age 25 of Tern Close, Tilehurst, pleaded guilty to a number of offences at Reading Magistrates Court on 26 April 2019. The Magistrate commented upon the flagrant disregard for the law by the defendants and felt that the case was serious enough to be committed to the Crown Court. The case was then passed to Reading Crown Court for sentencing on Friday 7th June 2019.
Hot Stuff (Reading) Ltd faced prosecution for 15 offences, with the three most serious offences attracting fines totalling £10K:
· A fine of £4,000 for fresh rat droppings found on a work surface in the food preparation area;
· A fine of £4,000 for failing to comply with a Hygiene Improvement Notice;
· A fine of £2,000 for failing to comply with an Improvement Notice; including failing to provide allergen information to consumers.
A victim surcharge of £170 was awarded and the Council was also granted full costs of £2,626 in the case against Hot Stuff (Reading) Ltd.
In the case against the business director, Shahbaz Mujtaba, the financial penalties totalled £2,078K.
He was fined £380 for the first offence and £600 for the second offence also applied to the company. A victim surcharge of £98 was awarded and the Council was granted a contribution to costs to the sum of £1,000. The judge also granted a Hygiene Prohibition Order against Mr Mujtaba which prohibits him from being involved in the management of any takeaway food business until such time that the court lifts the order.
During the Crown Court hearing, Her Honourable Judge Real commented upon the ‘unacceptable state’ that the business was in and agreed the company had high culpability for all offences and Mr Mujtaba had high culpability for the offences that occurred or continued to occur after the initial closure date of 2nd October.
Council officers have carried out a number of revisits in order to support the improvement of conditions at the premises. The business, which reopened on 3 November 2017, remains a 1 on the food hygiene rating scheme, which means major improvement is still required. Shahbaz Mujtaba is no longer the director but Hot Stuff (Reading) Ltd remains in charge of the business.
Cllr Graeme Hoskin, Reading’s Lead Member for Health and Food Safety, said: “These successful prosecutions show the Council’s commitment to protecting consumers from unacceptable food safety standards. Whilst the vast majority of food outlets in Reading are responsible, we take food violations very seriously and I want to thank our officers for their extensive work which has seen this business and its owner held accountable for their actions.
“There is no excuse for these kinds of breaches of basic food hygiene. This conviction sends out a clear message that public safety remains a priority and poor standards will not to be tolerated.”