VEGA News Item

Danger Lurking in School Meals. Children Poisoned. Guilty Butcher Sentenced. - 12/09/2007
A long-established family butcher who was responsible for food-poisoning that killed a 5-year-old boy and infected 100 other children was sentenced on 07 September 2007 to jail for 12 months...
A long-established family butcher who was responsible for food-poisoning that killed a 5-year-old boy and infected 100 other children was sentenced on 07 September 2007 to jail for 12 months. The outbreak left some victims with long-term kidney problems. William Tudor, managing director of the firm that supplied school lunches across South Wales, had failed to observe “basic food hygiene precautions”.

Cardiff Crown Court was told that meat sent out by the firm was contaminated with Ecoli 0157 bacteria, “causing Britain’s second-largest food-poisoning epidemic” (The Times 08 September 2007). Lax hygiene at the firm’s premises allowed raw meat to come into contact with cooked ham, turkey, and lamb. Five-year-old Mason Jones fell critically ill after he had eaten in his school canteen: for 2 weeks he was suffering fits, high temperatures, diarrhoea, and kidney failure. He died in hospital. Judge Neil Biddler, QC, told Tudor: “You failed to adopt safe procedures. Your staff were inadequately trained and poorly supervised. Cleaning of the premises was substandard and an inspection found blood splashes, cobwebs, dead insects, and congealed dirt on your machinery. You put the health of the public at risk for the sake of saving money”.

Evidence was presented to the court that “Tudor had cut corners in hygiene, telling staff to clean machinery only when health inspectors were expected. An uncleaned vacuum-packing machine was at the centre of the outbreak”. Graham Walters, prosecuting, said that “within days of Tudor’s firm supplying cooked turkey, ham and lamb in September 2005 a number of pupils fell ill with symptoms of diarrhoea. Environmental health officers (EHOs) were called in, an outbreak control team was set up and the poisoning was confirmed as Ecoli 0157”. The outbreak let to 157 cases of food poisoning being investigated; 109 cases at 44 schools were traced back to Tudor’s business, John Tudor and Son.

Mr Walters said that the plant had only one vacuum-packing machine, which was used for both raw and cooked meats. “It was not uncommon for juices from raw meat to get into the vacpacker. There was blood on the trays and workers were having to wipe it off while they were packing cooked meat. The health inspectors found fundamental failures in cleaning and there was general concern over hygiene, he said. “There was evidence the vacpacker was covered in congealed debris and dirt. Tudor was fully aware of the dangers because he had taken his advanced food hygiene certificate in 2004, which was a matter of law”. A legally required log of the cleaning records for the machinery had not been completed daily or weekly.

Taylor pleaded guilty to charges under the General Food Regulations of selling “unsafe food” to 6 schools, including Deri Primary School in Bargoed, where Mason Jones was a pupil. Other charges related to 5 other junior and primary schools. He also admitted failing to protect food against the risk of contamination at his factory. In defence Huw Davies QC says that Tudor blames himself for poor Mason’s death: “he is devastated”. The court was told that the once-thriving “family butchers” in Bridgend had now “collapsed in debt”. Tudor was banned from working in the management of the food industry for the rest of his life.

A public inquiry is due to be held by Professor Hugh Pennington into the outbreak. He carried out such an inquiry after the 0157 outbreak a year or 2 ago in Lanarkshire, Scotland, when a local catering butcher was found lacking in good manufacturing practice. It led to the deaths of 21 people at a celebration a vicar had arranged for a party of senior citizens, for whom it turned out the be their Last Supper. Cross-contamination within the food chain could affect food for veggies and the Food Standards Agency’s HACCP regimen (Hygiene Assessment and Critical Control Points) allied with due diligence and rigorous training and inspection should prevent these disasters. There are plans to apply HACCP to farms, and the hygiene assessments at every stage should be available for public inspection. For restaurants, for instance, this information should be displayed as prominently as the menus. However, parents of schoolchildren would have some difficulty in tracing the origins and handling of the meat that arrives on the plates of the children offered day by day in their school meals. Meat is a junk food among the most dangerous and needing appropriate scrutiny. These problems in the UK, combined with reservations over BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, and other zoonoses are hampering exporters in their efforts at restoring the export trade. And big names in the food industry have been implicated or are involved in litigation: Cadbury’s, Morrisons, Mars etc, as our reports demonstrate.

The EC General Food Law Regulation 178/2002 came into force 2 years ago, bringing with it onerous requirements regarding the notification, recall, and withdrawal of food and drink products. These requirements are implicit:

Companies are now required to notify the authorities immediately if they have reason to believe there is a problem.

Under the so-called precautionary principle agencies such as the FSA take the view that it’s better to act than not, if there is any risk.

An alert could well be posted on the Rapid Alert System for food and Feed, the EC’s shared network, immediately internationalising it.

New standards covering food safety, allergens, and biosecurity are likely to be announced. Consultations, in which VEGA has participated, are already under way. VEGA takes the view that vegetarians’ aversions to certain foods, ingredients, additives and recessive agents, as well as those in pharmaceutical products and supplements, must receive as much attention as the requirements of sufferers from certain metabolic disorders and allergies (e.g. celiacs) and dietary intolerances (e.g. to lactose), as well as with religiously-expressed avoidances (e.g. Jews, Muslims, and Hindus). Our Assalt course and Whey Out campaigns illustrate our stance.

We tease the FSA at some of the open meeting of its Council, which we attend: we participate in the questions-from-the-pubic part, although we object to efforts by FSA chairpersons to rule out comments and debate. We lament the time taken at these meeting “delving into the entrails of the deplorable live/deadstock industry when the opportunities are arising for worthier standards to raise for salutary foods from salubrious farming”.

In appraising events like the Ecoli 0157 outbreaks we compare the grief of parents and children, which cannot be fully assuaged by the processes of law, with the outcome of a motoring disaster in which a poorly maintained and unsafe vehicle swerves into a queue of children waiting on the pavement at a bus stop killing one and maiming many others. Is there consistency in the legal approach to such events and sequels? Are the controls exercised with the same rigor? Trading standards officers (TSOs) and environmental health officers (EHOs) are employed by local authorities, who may be reluctant to enter litigation with major firms with the resources to engage in appeals and employ high-powered barristers. Local residents don’t like to see their community taxes wasted on lost cases. Further, are the injured parties’ chances lessened if lacklustre litigation fails or beggars defendants from whom plaintiffs seek compensation? Here’s where we maintain that all farmers and agents in the food chain must be trained and licensed and have a 3rd party assurance at least so that they can, like an errant and bankrupt motorist, assure victims of their incompetence and failure just compensation. Such precautions would tighten standards and responsibilities and allow victims of malfeasances by food producers to take out private prosecutions with practical chances of success.

Many veggie foods are made and sold in SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) who may need reminding of the responsibilities (and paperwork!) that devolve on them. Big organisations and their directors are having to measure their involvement in corporate activities. The aftermaths of certain railway accidents illustrate this fact. The Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Acts 2007 are being explained in Croner Training (www.cronertraining.co.uk, phone 0845 082 1170); other courses and conferences deal with Health and Safety, Managing Office Facilities, Environmental Legislation and Regulations, Waste Management, and Risk Assessment.  

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