Out of the frying pan, onto the floor: Sheffield food hygiene falls behind again
A little over a decade ago, this city had the biggest backlog of uninspected kitchens in the UK
Good morning and apologies that the Thursday Tribune is coming to you on Friday this week.
The last time I got food poisoning from a restaurant — after ordering vegan sushi, which you would have thought would be safe — I sent my then-housemate a flurry of texts in the night about how nice it had been to know her. While I was obviously fine in the end, the consequences of a dirty or badly managed kitchen can be far more serious. That’s why it’s concerning that, in the last two decades, Sheffield has twice racked up a huge backlog of businesses that have never even received their first food hygiene rating.
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🍻 True North, one of Sheffield’s oldest pub companies, has gone bust, The Star report. The firm, which runs the Forum, the Riverside and the Broadfield, among others, has entered into a “pre-packed” sale which will allow it to clear its debts and trade under a different name, Cocktails and Craft Beers Limited, while safeguarding 325 jobs and all the company’s venues. Administrators said the firm had been under “enormous pressure” due to the cost of living crisis.
🏚️ The Telford-based businessmen who owns the Old Town Hall in Castlegate has been prosecuted for failing his tenants. Gunes Ata, who owns several other residential buildings in the city, was taken to court by Sheffield City Council for failing to provide information to a tenant about service charges for a residential building of which he is the landlord, St Mary’s House on London Road. In sentencing, he was ordered to pay £1,982 in costs and fines.
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Things to do
🎸 Beginning this Saturday and Sunday at the train station is Soundbite, a new market billed as a “celebration of Sheffield’s food and music”. Organisers promise “two days of award winning street food, local beers, family-friendly entertainment and live performances from some of the city’s finest talent”. The market will run from 12pm-10pm on both days. For 20% off all drinks, book a free ticket. Also taking place on Friday and Saturday is August’s Peddler Market.
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🖼️ On at Site Gallery until 10 September is Wishful Thinking, an immersive sensory exhibition exploring how galleries can best serve us as a space for reflection and rest. The show is designed by Society of Explorers, the gallery’s arts collective of young people aged 14–19, who investigated their hopes for a space that felt like a sanctuary for the mind and spirit in the midst of a chaotic world. The free exhibition is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-5pm.
Out of the frying pan onto the floor: Sheffield’s food hygiene has fallen behind again
Kebabish Original Sheffield, a restaurant that promises all the “thrill of the grill”, opened its doors to the public on 18th September 2020. Located on London Road, it has a meat-heavy menu and a number of positive reviews online. What it doesn’t have, at least at the time of writing, is a food hygiene rating.
Sheffield’s food hygiene inspectors are supposed to visit new businesses within 28 days of opening but, given the timing, it’s no surprise they didn’t get round to it straight away. During the first year of lockdown, the council only inspected 100 of the city’s thousands of commercial kitchens and, with hundreds of new businesses opening every year, a backlog built up rapidly.
When the pandemic began, there were less than 500 food businesses in Sheffield overdue for either their first inspection or a reinspection. In June this year, the list of overdue inspections had grown to more than 3,800, which includes more than 600 businesses who have still yet to receive their first rating.
Sheffield is not unique in seeing its backlog grow during lockdown. A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the government body in charge of food safety, told The Tribune the number of unrated premises across England grew from around 21,000 pre-pandemic to about 39,000 in April of this year. But there are signs it’s particularly worried about Sheffield. In June, councillors were told the agency was ringing officers up on a monthly basis to ask about their progress. Looking at Sheffield’s performance over the past two decades, it does have some cause to be concerned.
During a food hygiene inspection, a business is scored on three areas: the way it prepares, cooks and stores food; the cleanliness of its kitchen and building; and its management of food safety. The consequences of bad hygiene in a commercial kitchen can be no more serious than a funny stomach but, in rare cases, they can be deadly. In 2017, a family-run Scottish cheesemaker narrowly avoided criminal charges after being blamed for an E.coli outbreak that killed a three-year-old child. A disorganised kitchen is also more likely to accidentally trigger an allergic reaction.
Clearing Sheffield’s backlog will require the council to “deliver an unprecedented number of inspections” in the coming years but, at the very least, Kebabish Original Sheffield should be off the list soon. The restaurant was recently inspected, according to the FSA. When I speak to the owner on the phone he claims the inspection went well and is scornful of the idea that a question mark hanging over the restaurant’s cleanliness could have had any effect on their business. “You need to do your research properly,” he tells me. “We are always busy.”
Fair enough, but not every business is so relaxed about their rating. A former food hygiene inspector for Sheffield, who spoke to The Tribune anonymously, said she encountered businesses that “made their own food hygiene stickers and put them on the walls” to improve their score. Others would create a whole new business so they could get re-inspected. “There’s a lot of name changing, usually someone from the same family becomes the operator, which means they can fill in a new registration form and get a brand new inspection when nothing has really changed.”
Her recommendation for people who are unsure about how safe somewhere is to eat is to “go round the back of the place and have a look at their yard,” usually the area where a less than competent owner will let standards slip, or their bathroom. “If the toilets are not kept up to standard, you can bet that the kitchens won’t be.” And it’s likely that more kitchens than ever are failing to meet this high bar.
There has been, councillors were told in June, “a significant decline” in standards post-Covid, which meant a record number of businesses were told to shut due to poor hygiene last year. “The risks in the backlog businesses are likely to have increased over time, given the delay in official controls” which poses a danger both “to public health and to the reputation of Sheffield City Council”. According to the FSA website, the list of uninspected establishments includes the maternity unit at Royal Hallamshire Hospital and a nursery.
When asked about the backlog, Councillor Joe Otten, the chair of the council’s Waste and Street Scene Committee, blamed the need to temporarily re-deploy some food hygiene inspectors during the pandemic “to support the city’s efforts against coronavirus” and “usual work being suspended or reduced”. The increase in the number of businesses that need to be shut down, and thus have to be taken to court in a lengthy legal process, “also adds to the workload of the team”. Food hygiene “across the country are facing similar challenges”. This is undoubtedly true, but he offered no explanation for why records show an even bigger backlog built up in Sheffield several years pre-pandemic.