Tesco store 'infested with vermin'

POOR pest control led to an infestation of vermin at a Tesco supermarket in Suffolk, a court has heard.

Simon Tomlinson

POOR pest control led to an infestation of vermin at a Tesco supermarket in Suffolk, a court has heard.

Health inspectors found excrement and rotting food in the Martlesham Heath Tesco Extra store after being alerted by a customer they saw a rat, the court was told.

Suffolk Coastal District Council has brought eight charges against the food giant, which include having inadequate environmental health procedures in place to deal with rodents and failing to “pest proof” the building.

Tesco denies the charges, which relate to incidents between April 30 and August 15, 2007.

Prosecutor Geoffrey Stephenson said health inspectors found a number of “attractor factors”, such as decomposing food in the fresh produce section and gaps in the warehouse, which encouraged vermin into the store.

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District Judge David Cooper was told that Tesco was aware of the problem around six weeks before health officers at Suffolk Coastal became involved.

Mr Stephenson said: “In the fresh produce area the health inspector found liquid spinach and decomposing fruit and vegetables mixed with mice droppings.

“It is also clear that staff were taking steps to deal with it. Rentokil (a pest control company) were involved, there is nothing wrong with that but it didn't work in this case.”

The company was also criticised during the hearing at South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court for its cleaning standards in the weeks leading up to the pest problem.

Lead environmental health officer Catherine Hickling said many areas of the store, including the bakery, delicatessen and shop floor were regularly marked as “poor” during weekly internal audits by staff.

Debris was even found underneath the soap dispenser in the bakery, she said.

She added: “There was a lack of sufficient implementation of the policy. In some cases they were putting money before hygiene.”

She also raised a number of concerns about the construction of the food premises.

Gaps in the waste disposal chute - known as a compactor - allowed mice to climb into the wall cavities and rotting food was found around the compactor area.

Yet Mrs Hickling said there was no company procedure for cleaning the compactor area and she condemned Tesco's slow response in dealing with the problem.

Earlier in the hearing, the court heard that a member of the public saw a rat running across a chiller cabinet containing sausage rolls in aisle 24.

The trial continues.