Saturday, 22 February 2020

Restaurateur claims food hygiene checks are unfair

THE owner of an Indian restaurant in Goring has criticised the food hygiene inspection system after receiving a one-star rating.

Haq Abdul, who opened Masoom’s Tandoori in High Street in 2006, says the score is unfair as there is no risk to people’s health and it could put customers off.

Environmental health officers from South Oxfordshire District Council inspected the premises on December 4 and found the restaurant and its kitchen were clean so scored the business “good” in this area.

However, they gave it a low score overall, meaning “major improvement necessary”, because they said Mr Abdul wasn’t keeping sufficiently detailed paperwork.

The Food Standards Agency, which oversees inspections under its Scores on the Doors scheme, says restaurants must record all deliveries as well as the storage, cooking and reheating temperatures of all food served.

They must also write down every time they inspect their premises for cleanliness or train their staff in food safety.

Mr Abdul, 43, who lives in Goring part-time, says this puts small businesses like his at a disadvantage as larger companies can hire experts to carry out training.

The inspectors also docked Masoom’s points because they arrived unannounced as a daytime delivery was being made and staff had piled empty cardboard boxes outside the restaurant while restocking the kitchen.

Mr Abdul says the boxes were there for only a few minutes before being put in the bins but the officers said they should have been disposed of immediately.

He also lost marks because the spark mechanism on his gas oven had broken and staff were lighting it with a hand-held stove lighter, which inspectors said was dangerous.

Mr Abdul, who previously ran a restaurant in Abingdon, has since repaired the oven and says he will improve his record keeping.

He has paid £170 for a fresh inspection and says he is confident he will achieve his previous three-star rating, which means “generally satisfactory”.

He says he would like a higher score but was told by the inspectors that he must have a walk-in cold room rather than using fridges or freezers, which he says is impossible because the building is too small.

Mr Abdul has displayed his one-star rating on the restaurant door even though this isn’t yet a legal requirement in England.

He says some villagers expressed concern but remained loyal when he explained the situation. However, he is worried that visitors who see his rating online would go elsewhere.

Mr Abdul said: “We’ve always done our best with the records but it’s hard because we’ve got so many things going on. We close at 10.30pm and might be cleaning up until 11.30pm so there’s enough work as it is.

“Some business might have plenty of staff but sometimes I’ll only have three people working in here and times are difficult for small businesses without extra challenges.

“Curry is always cooked at very high temperatures and in the same way every time, so I don’t understand why you’re supposed to write the same record night after night. McDonald’s or Tesco could have a whole department for that but we don’t.

“I always try my hardest and I did give the inspectors a big book of records at the last visit but it wasn’t enough.

“I understand that food hygiene is very important and take it very seriously but the current system is so strict. I’ve had customers asking if there’s been a change in ownership after I put the score up so it does affect business.

“I set up in Goring because it’s a beautiful village and we’ve always done well here with lots of repeat customers. It’s a good community and I’m proud to play a part in it.”

Every summer the restaurant supports the Goring Gap in Bloom initiative by decorating its premises with more than a dozen floral baskets, planters and windowboxes.

It was a favourite of singer George Michael, who lived in the village before his death in 2016, and other recent customers have included tennis player Tim Henman, television presenter Amanda Holden, former racing driver David Coulthard and comedian Lenny Henry, who lives near Streatley.

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who owns the Greyhound in Gallowstree Common, expressed similar concerns about the rating scheme when his pub received a single star in 2009.

He said it was too “bureaucratic” as failing to fill out paperwork didn’t mean there was a risk to the public. His business now has three stars.

Some owners expressed similar views when the Henley Standard published the ratings of every food business in the area to mark the scheme’s 10th anniversary last year.

However, other independent businesses praised the scheme and argued it wasn’t that hard to comply with.

All scores are published online at ratings.food.gov.uk

• Pierreponts café in High Street, Goring, was awarded a four-star rating, or “good”, following an inspection in December, while Goring Social Club, also in High Street, received five stars, or “very good”.

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