Teeth marks in chocolate bars and other confectionery at the Iceland store in the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre have led to fines and costs totalling £17,000 for displaying unsafe food for sale.
Last week at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court Iceland Foods Ltd pleaded guilty under food safety legislation to two charges of putting food on the market which was unsafe. Iceland was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000.
Southwark Council launched the prosecution after food safety officers responded to two complaints in 2007.
Food safety officers responded to the first complaint in April 2007 by carrying out a site visit and advising Iceland in writing about how they could manage the rodent problem.
The council says that when a second customer complained in the same month about a chewed chocolate bar, a further site visit took place – where chocolate bars, liquorice allsorts and biscuits gnawed by rodents were found on the shelves. Charges were laid as a result of the second complaint and visit.
Iceland accepted in court that there had not been adequate procedures in place to deal with pest control problems, that procedures which were in place were not followed and that store management had failed to report the problem to head office.
The court's judgement noted that appropriate controls were put in place as soon as the seriousness of the problem was identified by head office. This was reflected in the sentence, which could have been an unlimited fine.
The prosecution also decided not to offer evidence on five other charges.
"Any sign of pest activity within food premises must be taken seriously and responded to without delay, and recommendations from pest control contractors should be acted on immediately," says Cllr Paul Kyriacou, executive member for community safety.
"If rodents are present in food premises or the surrounding area, it is imperative that management and staff diligently check the condition of stored and displayed foods for any evidence of damage or contamination.
"Southwark Council's food safety team are on hand to provide advice and guidance to businesses and their customers on food safety issues. Southwark's food businesses are inspected regularly, to ensure compliance with food hygiene legislation and safeguard public health."
But Iceland claims that it has been unfairly targeted in relation to a problem that also affected the rest of the shopping centre.
‚ÄúIceland sees no discernible public interest in bringing such a prosecution in light of the efforts being made to deal with what is a complex environmental issue,‚ÄĚ said the company in a statement.