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Risk Assessments in Fine Dining?

Are there signs of an interesting trend in the attitude of the mass media toward the FSA and   Food Safety? The weekend before last the Sunday Times carried a story about chefs of repute complaining about the intervention of food inspectors in advising about the dangers of producing dishes made from poultry livers that were lightly cooked.

This week we have seen the Daily Mail continuing this theme with Gourmet experts decrying the efforts of an EHO’s advice on the safety of offering rare cooked burgers. A court case had been concluded in which a local authority had made an effort to rein in a restaurateur they deemed to be incapable of preparing a beef burger safely if it was offered rare.

There may often be differing opinions in risk assessments carried out by two sides of a food safety argument. The food inspectors base their conclusions on the results of their audit and can only assess the likelihood of a food borne outbreak on general facts. They know there is a higher risk of E.coli O157 from eating undercooked beef because the information from the FSA supports it. They know that the chances of being infected with Campylobacter from dishes using undercooked chicken liver are much higher because the information is there to ’prove’ it.

The chef’s argue that they are trained, experienced and buy only from good suppliers. This may illicit a response tinged with incredulity from anyone in a part of the food industry where supply chain risk management involves more than just nipping round to the local meat and poultry wholesaler. However, there is a great deal to be said for personal contact and a history of safe supply. We may call it a supplier audit, but that visit to the local supplier for a chat over a cup tea can tell the buyer a great deal about the kind of business from which the ingredients are being obtained. Or can it?

If the feared outbreak happened whose evidence would weigh the heaviest in court? Would the burger maker’s argument last week still be favoured when his rare juicy burger offered an E.coli ruined kidney on the side?

The chef who takes a chance with his customer’s health and fails to protect them has no legal defence. He or she has been warned.  Being banned from running a food business is one possibility, but what of the consequences for the customers? Would the restaurants public liability insurance stand the cost or would the insurer tell the chefs that they failed to act with due care and therefore invalidated their cover?

Is this the perfect storm building in the ‘fine dining’ sector?

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