Businessman Fined Over Rat-Infested Kitchen

Owner killed rat in front of horrified hygiene inspectors

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A local food business was so badly infested with rats that council hygiene inspectors nearly trod on one while investigating safety concerns at the premises.

The problem was so bad that the owner of the business, Rajakumar Rajalingam, actually killed a rat in front of the horrified officers while they were carrying out their inspection.

The case was heard in court last week when Mr Rajalingam was ordered to pay nearly £20,000 in fines and court costs after pleading guilty to a catalogue of food safety and trading standards offences.

Kingston Crown Court heard that Mr Rajalingam was using a business unit in Bickersteth Road to cook and prepare dishes for his food outlet New Chutney Express in Tooting High Street.

When environmental health officers visited the premises in Bickersteth Road they found a serious rodent infestation with numerous rat and mouse droppings visible in food preparation areas.

Rats were able to get into the filthy kitchen through an open and uncovered drain located beneath a washing up sink. Numerous rodent droppings were found on shelves where food was being stored where gnawed chicken bones were also discovered.

While the officers were speaking to him about the poor state of hygiene and cleanliness in his kitchen a rat suddenly appeared - and was killed by Mr Rajalingam.

The officers later said that they had never before witnessed such a scene during a food inspection.

As well as taking wholly inadequate steps to stop rodents getting in, the presence of so many droppings throughout the food preparation and storage areas indicated that Mr Rajalingam was failing to clean his kitchen properly.

He admitted three food safety offences, and also pleaded guilty to the same three offences on behalf of new Chutney Express Ltd. For these offences the total fines imposed by the court reached £10,000 and he was ordered to pay £4,055 towards the council's prosecution costs.

He was also sentenced at the same time for selling counterfeit goods at his general store at 66 Tooting High Street. He was fined £750 and ordered to pay costs of £4,482 after trading standards officers discovered counterfeit Jacob's Creek wine on sale in his shop. The court heard that Wandsworth Council had taken legal action against him in 2007 for selling counterfeit champagne.

Passing sentence the judge told Rajalingham that his behaviour was "disgraceful" and that he should be "heartily ashamed" of himself. He had "brought the restaurant business into disrepute" and put the public at risk of "serious illness".

The council's spokesman on consumer protection Cllr Jonathan Cook said: "This was a shocking catalogue of hygiene and food safety breaches. These premises were in a truly appalling state and posed an unacceptable danger to public health.

"The judge was quite right when he told Mr Rajalingam that he should be ashamed of himself.... This should of course act as a warning to other food retailers who are prepared to play fast and loose with food safety laws."

Consumers can check on hygiene quality levels in local restaurants, take-aways and other food establishments by scrutinising their ratings under the Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme (FHRS), which is operated by the Food Standards Agency.

You can check these ratings by visiting www.wandsworth.gov.uk/foodsafety

Anyone with concerns about food safety or hygiene conditions in a local shop or restaurant should telephone (020) 8871 6139.

December 1, 2012