MILK products distributor Dairy Crest has apologised to customers after being fined £17,000 for mouse infestation at its depot and store in Fenstanton. Huntingdonshire magistrates also ordered the company to pay the district council s £4,348 costs of inve

Cheese packets which have been chewed

MILK products distributor Dairy Crest has apologised to customers after being fined £17,000 for mouse infestation at its depot and store in Fenstanton.

Huntingdonshire magistrates also ordered the company to pay the district council's £4,348 costs of investigating the offences and bringing the prosecution.

The infestation posed such a serious risk to public health that HDC environmental health officers ordered it to be shut until a thorough clean had been completed and structural repairs made to ensure the building was pest-proof, the court was told.

But serving a formal notice was not necessary because the company volunteered to close the operation and make alternative arrangements until the work had been carried out.

Dairy Crest pleaded guilty to four charges under food hygiene legislation: that the premises were not maintained in good repair and condition; the layout, construction and design of the premises did not permit hygienic practices, such as protection against contamination by pests; drainage facilities were inadequate; and food was not stored to protect it from contamination likely to render it unfit for human consumption.

Vicki Stevens, prosecuting on behalf of the council, described how environmental health protection officer, Belinda Betham, went to the depot to make a routine food hygiene inspection and to follow up a complaint from a member of the public who had found mouse droppings on the side of a bottle of milk that had been delivered.

Mrs Betham discovered "a serious and established mouse infestation," finding eggs, packs of cheese and bottles of milk that had been gnawed or had droppings on them.

Carrier bags containing customers' groceries had been hung in cages at a high level as an attempt to deter mice from reaching them, Miss Stevens added.

She told the court: "Rentokil routinely visited the site to lay bait and, just a few days before the visit, had started an intensive treatment to control mouse activity."

Drainage gullies were blocked with foul smelling sludge and debris including bottle tops and cigarette ends.

When Mrs Betham visited the depot the next day, the cold store had been completely cleaned and work was in progress to clear the gullies. A "deep clean" was carried out, structural repairs to make the building pest-proof were completed and the depot re-opened nine days after the initial inspection.

Caroline Slettengren, for Dairy Crest, said the company had 112 distribution depots, delivered 10 million pints of milk each week to over one million customers. In the knowledge of the current operations director this was the first such prosecution.

After the case, David Flannigan, operations director for Dairy Crest's home delivery division, said: "We recognise that our customers will be very concerned by the information presented before the court today, and we would like to apologise to them unreservedly.

"We have already taken steps to ensure that this will never happen again.