By Sylvia Rowley
Most nurseries and playgroups in Southwark are failing to meet basic legal food hygiene standards, an investigation by The Platform has found.
A whopping four fifths of nurseries in the borough did not meet all the legal standards required of them, according to the council’s food safety ratings. This means 80 out of the 93 nurseries kitchens in Southwark are not complying with hygiene laws, potentially putting young children’s health at risk.
Parents from Southwark approached by The Platform expressed shock at the findings.
Under the law, all establishments that serve food should be inspected at least every two years by environmental health officers who hand out star ratings of between five and zero.
The Platform analysed Southwark’s inspection results published through the ‘scores on the doors’ scheme. Five stars indicates that a premises is fully in compliance with the law. Anything below this means that a kitchen has breached food safety laws to some degree. Food outlets with no stars are “very poor”. One-star establishments have poor compliance with the law and those with two stars need to make more effort to hit all the legal requirements – designed to stop the spread of bacteria that can cause gastro-intestinal diseases.
Our investigation found that 14 per cent of nursery kitchens, which feed children under five on a daily basis, got two stars or fewer in the last recorded inspection.
Food hygiene expert Professor Hugh Pennington said: “Any outlet scoring two stars [more effort required to meet all legal requirements] is unsafe. Lower scores indicate imminent danger. I would expect those with a score of zero to have been closed on the spot.”
Amy Murphy, 21, a mother from Borough said: “I’m shocked this is how our children are being treated, it’s not good at all. My son Lemmell is about to start nursery in January and I’d take him out if I found out it had less than three stars.”
But Rachel Armitage, 33, a nanny from Elephant and Castle was less surprised. “Having worked in private nurseries myself I know that what goes on behind the scenes is very different to what parents see.”
There are many reasons why a kitchen could contravene food safety laws, says Nathan Philippo of the Food Standards Agency. A cracked tile on a kitchen work surface that could attract bacteria would count as a minor breach of the law. Major breaches could include uncontrolled pest infestations or a major cross-contamination of food.
Nurseries do not have to display the results of inspections or inform parents if they are not complying with hygiene laws. As a result parents are unlikely to know the risks posed to their children by substandard hygiene. Sarah Jones, 28, from Elephant and Castle, who has two daughters under the age of 10 said: “Parents should be told. We send our children to nursery from 9am to 3.30pm every day and it’s very important that everything is clean and that food is in date.”
Where the star ratings are displayed they can be misleading. Parents may not understand that a nursery has to get 5 stars to be fully compliant with the law, and that a ‘3 star’ kitchen may be seriously breaching food safety standards.
The Platform contacted some of the worst scoring nurseries in the borough. Jill Stout, the manager of Little Saints nursery in Peckham, which got no stars in an inspection in May, said: “When I took over in May the kitchen wasn’t very hygienic or clean. Now we have a cleaner who comes in daily, a handwash sink in the kitchen and a person responsible for risk management. We were inspected again in November and got four stars.”
Earl Legister, food team manager at Southwark council said that Southwark’s results do not indicate a bad performance on the part of food safety officers. “The proportion of businesses with zero stars is very low,” he said. Neighboring Lewisham seems to be performing no better with 92 per cent of businesses with ‘nursery’ in their name not meeting hygiene standards.
Food outlets that breach hygiene laws can be closed down, prosecuted, or served with formal improvement notices, Mr Legister said. This year 18 businesses in Southwark have been prosecuted for hygiene offences, but it is not clear whether any of these were nurseries.
Nurseries are not alone in failing the hygiene test. Takeaways in Southwark were worst: 95 per cent of takeaways do not meet legal hygiene standards and 13 per cent of them – 26 premises – got zero stars. But as one parent commented “you might expect a kebab shop to be a bit grimy but you never imagine that a kitchen feeding your kids will be anything less than spotless.”