Shropshire Star

Telford pizza shop owner 'in denial about hygiene' avoids jail over filthy takeaway

A 79-year-old Telford pizza shop owner has been handed a seven-month suspended jail sentence and banned from running food premises again after admitting breaching food hygiene laws.

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Momma's Pizzas in Oakengates. Photo: Google.

Shrewsbury Crown Court was told that Ziaddin Choudury, who will be 80 on December 8, had been involved in the food industry for 35 years, many of those at Momma's Pizzas in Oakengates, and that problems with its hygiene standards had been picked up by officers since 2011.

But a complaint by a member of the public led to a council visit to the Market Street premises on August 2018 where they found a series of health hazards, including piles of mouldy dough, a tin can opener with food on it, unclean equipment and use of cardboard for work surfaces, making a possible breeding ground for hazardous bugs.

Telford & Wrekin Council wanted to get back nearly £24,000 in court costs over the case, but recorder Anthony Warner accepted that there was little chance of them getting all that back. He imposed costs of £500.

Recorder Warner said Choudury, a diabetic who is in poor health having suffered a stroke, posed a low risk of harm or offending in the future. An interpreter was in court to relay the court proceedings to him in the dock.

"Although the risk was serious, and people were certainly at risk of suffering food poisoning, there have been no reports of anyone being ill," said Recorder Warner.

He accepted the defence case, put by Matthew Kerruish-Jones in court on Tuesday, that Choudury should be given a suspended sentence.

In sentencing Choudury, Recorder Warner said: "You appear really to be in denial the importance of hygiene. These are very serious matters that go back a long way."

Defence and prosecution lawyers agreed that Choudury, the sole proprietor of the premises, should immediately be prohibited from running a food business.

Choudury pleaded guilty to five breaches of the regulations, including failure to keep a food premises clean and maintained in good repair and condition, allowing unsafe food to be stored on the business premises, failure to store food at the correct temperature and failure to protect food against contamination.

His sentences were imposed to run concurrently.

Jane Sarginson, prosecuting, said a visit by environmental health officers on August 2, 2018, had been a result of a complaint to the council from a member of the public. But the premises were well-known to council officials. During a visit in January 2018 it had been identified as in need of major improvements for hygiene safety and handed a one out of five hygiene rating.

In February 2018 a procedure for lifting standards had been signed off.

But when they visited the premises in August, officers found Choudury with three employees. One had no training in food safety and there was no food safety certificate.

"One had to be reminded on several occasions to wash his hands," said Ms Sarginson.

Officials found three containers of out-of-date coleslaw dated July 2018, fajitas that had started to grow mould, and 12-day old stale dough in plastic bags.

They also found raw chicken in a 'filthy' double sink, near a board that was used to chop salad and posed a "risk of cross contamination".

Officials also found shredded chicken stored at 16.2C when it was meant to be kept not above 8C.

Ms Sarginson said it was "risking the development of pathogens harmful to humans".

The same was found for burgers which officials found to be kept at 15.2C.

The prosecutor added that electricity had been switched off at night to "save money" and this led to fridges defrosting.

Among dirty equipment found on the premises was a microwave and a tin opener with food residue.

Choudury was also accused of using cardboard on surfaces, which cannot be cleaned.

When he was interviewed in November 2018 Choudury blamed issues on an employee who had left the business. He said that the coleslaw had been for himself and not the public. The fajitas had been an employee's and he had "forgot that they were there", he said.

Council staff visited again in August 2019 and found problems continuing.

The court was told that the business had received warnings but very little had happened during visits in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In some years they had multiple visits over "a similar set of non-compliance".

Asking for the court to prohibit Choudury from running food businesses, Ms Sarginson also asked for council costs of £23,818.79 to be imposed on him.

Matthew Kerruish-Jones, mitigating, asked the court to impose a suspended sentence and to realise that Choudury is "not a man of means".

The business turned over about £98,000 a year but his personal income was £11,340, supported by his state pension, the court was told.

"His best mitigation are his personal circumstances, his health, his age and his guilty plea," said Mr Kerruish-Jones.

"He is going to be prohibited so the risk of further offending is nil.

"He has done himself no favours in the way he has conducted himself, but this is not the worst food safety or hygiene case that has come before this court. Nobody has been made ill as far as I am aware and vermin are not a feature of this case."

He added that Choudury would be 80 next week and had many health problems, including a stroke, being diabetic and having heart problems.

The future of his home is also in doubt at the moment, he said.

Mr Kerruish-Jones added that some improvement had been seen at the shop in the past year, when Choudury's brother helped him improve hygiene ratings from zero to three out of five stars.

Recorder Anthony Warner said Choudury "should make a contribution to council costs" of nearly £24,000 but he said he had to be "realistic".

"The reality is that he has no savings and if he goes into social housing that will come at some cost to him," he said.

"But whatever contribution is made is going to be modest compared to what is sought."

Recorder Warner said the maximum custodial sentence would be nine months in prison but he would reduce this to seven months to take account of the mitigating factors.

And he considered the issue of whether he should suspend the sentence. He said: "The prospect is that you will have time to reflect on what has happened and are regarded as someone who will not offend in this way again."

He said these factors enabled him to suspend the jail sentence for 12 months.

Choudury was warned that if he offended again he risked being jailed.

Recorder Warner ordered Choudury to pay £500 in costs at the rate of £40 a month.