Bad cooks' tour of Britain

Survey reveals poor hygiene and dirty food at tourist attractions
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The Independent Online
Not only the white-knuckle rides at tourist attractions turn your stomach - the food you eat there could leave you feeling ill, according to a new report by the Consumers' Association.

When environmental health officers and representatives of the CA's magazine Which? inspected restaurants, cafes and kiosks at big attractions such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Alton Towers, they found that only one in seven outlets passed all the hygiene criteria. And of the 65 food samples taken a third fell foul of Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) guidelines.

Sandwiches were by far the worst offenders - a fifth contained food poisoning reported at levels that were rated not satisfactory by the PHLS - and more than half contained high levels of other general bacteria, pointing to poor hygiene practices.

There are now around four times the number of food poisoning cases reported than 10 years ago, and last year alone an alarming 95,000 people reported poisoning after eating contaminated food. Food poisoning is often the result of poor hygiene practices that come to light only after people fall ill, and as a result the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations were introduced two years ago.

They called on food business to implement a system of "hazard analysis" - with potential risks in every stage of food preparation identified and controlled. Many systems of hazard analysis exist, but after the E.coli O157 outbreak in Lanarkshire, the Pennington Group, set up by the Secretary of State for Scotland to investigate the outbreak, called on the UK to adopt one internationally recognised system.

In the Which? survey, the researchers went to 13 tourist attractions, including Chessington World of Adventures and Edinburgh Castle. They bought cheese, chicken, egg, prawn and tuna fillings, with salad and mayonnaise if possible, soft-scoop ice creams and burgers or sausages in buns.

The test revealed specific bacteria in five of the sandwiches at levels that are not satisfactory, and that could cause food poisoning in children, the elderly and pregnant women. High levels of other bacteria were found in more than half of the sandwiches.

Only five out of 36 outlets inspected by environmental health officers met criteria for good practice. In half of the places, staff did not have their hair tied back or covered. In one in five places, staff touched food that should have been served only with tongs.

Staff wore disposable gloves in six food outlets but in four cases they might not as well have bothered . At the Ice Cream Parlour at Chessington World of Adventures, a food handler wore a glove on one hand only - the hand not touching the food. And in 11 per cent of cases, there was no soap in the toilets situated in or nearest the cafe. This meant that customers - and in some cases staff - would not have been able to wash their hands before handling food.

"Food hygiene standards at tourist attractions need to be vastly improved," said Helen Parker, editor of Which?. "Many staff appear to have a poor understanding of basic hygiene and need better training and supervision - we found one girl wearing five rings, all with stones which harbour dirt ... We want to see all food outlets licensed and funding for enforcing food safety laws should be ring-fenced."

Food guide

In the two weeks of the Easter holiday this year the Which? team visited Alton Towers; Blackpool Pleasure Beach; Brighton Palace Pier; The British Museum; Chessington World of Adventures; Chester Zoo; Edinburgh Castle; Hampton Court Gardens; Kew Gardens; London Zoo; Madame Tussaud's; National Gallery; Tower of London

What the inspectors found in the sandwiches

Edinburgh Castle

A tuna sandwich containing the most common strain of listeria, Listeria monocytogenes, was bought from the Castle Restaurant at Edinburgh Castle. As a result, the castle has changed its sandwich supplier.

Castle Restaurant, Edinburgh Castle

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

An egg sandwich which was also found to contain L. monocytogenes was bought from the Beach Cafeteria and Bar at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The Pleasure Beach is revising its staff training programme.

Also at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a food preparer at The Frying Dutchman handled raw and cooked foods without washing his hands. The BPB said this contravened their standard practice.

Brighton Palace Pier

E. coli (not the virulent 0157 strain responsible for recent deaths in Lanarkshire) was found in a chicken baguette bought from a stall at Brighton Palace Pier. The landlord has called in the local environmental health department.

"Sandwiches were freshly made but placed on a dirty cloth on top of the food counter. Other dirty cloths were also lying around."

Baguette stall, Brighton Palace Pier

Alton Towers

E. coli (again not 0157) and Staphylococcus aureus (the main bacteria arising from human contamination of food) was found in an egg sandwich bought at Bagshaw's Family Restaurant in Alton Towers.

A ham baguette containing Staph. aureus was bought at the Corner Coffee Shop, Alton Towers. The theme park is carrying out daily hygiene inspections of all its outlets and testing food samples for bacteria.

Alton Towers