A SUPERSTORE in Taunton has been fined nearly £1 million after rats contaminated both pet and human food products.
The store, on the Hankridge retail park, near the M5 motorway, was prosecuted in September by Somerset Council for seven food hygiene offences after a rat infestation was reported.
CDS (Superstores International) Ltd, operating as The Range Home and Leisure at Hankridge, Taunton, entered guilty pleas and sentencing was adjourned until December 4.
Now, magistrates have issued a £960,000 fine, which was reduced to £640,000 for the company’s early admission of guilt.
They also ordered the business to pay the full £26,593 costs of the council taking the case to court, and a £190 surcharge.
Council officers first received a complaint about a ‘severe rat infestation’ in March, 2022, which led to a long investigation over an eight-month period involving more than 20 visits.
They found both pet and human food had been gnawed, packaging was damaged and contaminated by rats, and droppings from the rodents were found on shelves next to food in the shop area and warehouse.
An Emergency Hygiene Prohibition Notice was served in August last year to prohibit the business selling food for human consumption.
The notice was then made into an Emergency Hygiene Prohibition Order by magistrates the following month.
But monitoring visits later found the store was still selling food in contravention of the order which could have caused an ‘imminent risk to health’.
Magistrates were told rats could spread a number of serious illnesses to humans, such as E.coli, Weil’s disease, and toxoplasmosis.
The Range failed to control the rat activity and act upon the advice given by the council and its contracted pest control company.
The business also failed to protect food from contamination and keep the premises clean and maintained in a clean condition.
Somerset executive Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts said: “The fine imposed by the court recognises the significance of the rat infestation in the business and the potential this had to cause harm to human health.
“Environmental health oofficers across Somerset work hard to ensure food businesses are compliant with food safety legislation and will take enforcement action where necessary in line with enforcement policy.”