West Brom balti house fined almost £3k over "peanut-free" meal...which contained peanuts

The owners of a West Bromwich balti house where a meal advertised as "peanut-free" contained enough of a trace to give an allergic person an anaphylactic reaction have been ordered to pay almost £3,000 in fines and court costs.

Sayma Bibi Khanom and Shamsu Miah of Stone Cross Balti, Westminster Road, both pleaded guilty to food offences at Wolverhampton Magistrates Court on 12 October 2018.

Sandwell Council's trading standards team uncovered the potentially fatal situation in September 2017 when officers were testing food served in takeaways and restaurants to check bosses were complying with strict rules on food allergens and food labelling. Tests discovered the lamb korma and rice dish which was sold as being peanut-free actually contained 31mg per kg of peanuts. Experts said this would easily be enough to cause an anaphylactic reaction – which can result in death - in someone allergic to peanuts.

Forty premises were visited across Sandwell between September and December 2017 and three sold meals that contained dangerous levels of peanuts. The other two are still under investigation.   A further two meals tested contained trace levels of peanut but not at a high enough level to cause a reaction. 

It’s believed the traces found in the dish at Stone Cross Balti were found due to cross-contamination from an ingredient the business did not know contained peanuts. The court heard that the restaurant had received advice from the local authority when the regulations requiring allergen information to be provided came into force but had failed to implement the guidance provided. Sandwell Council's cabinet member for public health and protection Councillor Elaine Costigan said:

"It's shocking to think of a business serving food to members of the public putting someone's life at risk in this way. We've all heard of the tragic, but thankfully rare, circumstances of people who have died or become seriously ill after they’ve eaten something without knowing it contains a substance they are allergic to.

"Only recently a teenage girl died after unknowingly eating a baguette that contained sesame, which shows how dangerous this can be.

“Businesses are legally required to warn customers about any allergens in food. If a business can’t guarantee a meal doesn’t contain an allergen, then they shouldn’t be serving it.

“Our trading standards team do vital work in keeping us all safe when we’re eating out and I want to congratulate them for bringing this prosecution. I dread to think of the consequences had someone with a peanut allergy eaten this dish.”

Bibi was fined £320, ordered to pay costs of £935 and a £32 victim surcharge. Miah was fined £535, ordered to pay costs of £935 and a £53 victim surcharge. Both were also convicted of failing to be able to provide traceability details for the lamb used in the meal, though there was no separate penalty for that offence.

It’s believed that Sandwell was the only authority in the UK to employ an officer to specifically advise businesses on their responsibilities around allergens when new regulations came in in 2014, as well as offering allergy packs to test food and low cost training.

Checks in Sandwell found a lower level of failure to declare allergens than in the rest of the country and bosses say they are pleased at the generally high level of knowledge shown by the majority of businesses.


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