Casual dining chain Wahaca’s latest results show the chain in the red for the first time in its 10 year history; profits were down 883% on the year before. The loss was attributed to the fact that the chain had to close 9 of its London restaurants in late 2016 after an outbreak of norovirus, the result of which was an exceptional loss of £700,000. Luckily there was no loss of life as a result of the outbreak which was found to have come from an external source.

This is ever food outlet’s worst nightmare. Whilst Wahaca were not prosecuted following the outbreak it is clear to see the damage that it has done to the chain financially and how hard it has had to work to rebuild its reputation.

Act Quickly

If the worst does happen and you are notified of an outbreak of food poisoning at one of your outlets you must act quickly and make sure you do the following:

  • treat any notification as a potential claim for damages and notify your insurers as soon as possible
  • notify Public Health England and Environmental Health
  • consider closure while you investigate. You may, of course, be forced to close by the authorities while they investigate too.

Food hygiene is a serious matter

In serious cases of food poisoning, where an operator is prosecuted for breaching food hygiene legislation, hefty fines and even custodial sentences can result. Back in 2015 M&B were fined £1.5m and the chef and manager were given prison sentences of 12 and 18 months respectively when a customer died after eating improperly reheated turkey at a pub.

Substantial fines
Since then fines for food hygiene offences have increased substantially, with fines now taking into account the financial circumstances of the organisation as well as its turnover. The starting point when fining a large organisation (turnover of £50m or more) found guilty of a food safety offence, where both the harm and culpability levels are high, would be £1.2m (with the fine range being £500,000 up to £3m).

It is therefore essential for all food outlet operators to ensure that:

  • robust due diligence procedures are in place
  • staff are trained to operate due diligence procedures effectively
  • records are kept of safety checks carried out
  • staff are monitored to ensure that procedures are always followed in practice.

Dealing with a claim against your restaurant

 Be prepared to manage the risk, should the worst happen. Read our article, covering successfully handling a claim, HERE

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.