Commons catering areas 'illegal'

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Indy Politics
HEALTH, hygiene and safety standards in the numerous restaurants, dining rooms and canteens at the House of Commons are so bad they could have been banned, MPs revealed yesterday.

An in-depth inspection by an environmental health officer would result in 'at best an improvement notice, or at worst a prohibition notice being served,' the cross-party Catering Committee said in report.

The MPs call for urgent improvements following an investigation into the vast House of Commons Refreshment Department, which serves more than 750,000 meals a year to MPs, staff and visitors.

The report paints a grim picture of conditions under which food is stored and prepared, often falling short of legal requirements.

The ad hoc development of 25 separate catering facilities in the mainly mid-19th century building has resulted in old and inefficient kitchen equipment and dilapidated premises which are inadequate for the number of customers.

The defects highlighted in the report include poor separation between food, chemicals, utensils and china; illegal unsealed timber shelving; rusting doors and perished seals on cold rooms and a cold store for the principal kitchen that is 'totally inadequate'.

A small kitchen used for the preparation of meat, fish and vegetables creates a potential hazard of cross-contamination, while there is no separation between preparation and pot washing. The principal kitchen is 'hot, cramped oppressive'. There is almost total lack of refrigeration, no 'cold' area, and cold food has to travel through the hot area to reach the servery.

The kitchen serving members' and strangers' cafeterias and members' tea rooms has a lift transporting both dirty dishes and clean crockery, while in the adjacent corridor, 'food, refuse and kitchen staff rub shoulders with customers'. It would be 'prudent' to expect a cost of pounds 17m, the MPs said.

In spite of the need for radical overhaul, the MPs were unable to bring themselves to agree to the proposed abolition of the legendary Annie's Bar, the once-fabled meeting place for MPs and journalists which few now visit. Despite 'very low' trading figures, the report cites evidence that closure would be a 'loss to parliamentary democracy' and suggests its re-siting.