Dublin based African food wholesaler fined over rat-infestation

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
John Johnson
John Johnson

A DUBLIN wholesaler specialising in African food has been fined €6,000 after a health inspection uncovered “evidence of significant rat infestation”.

John Johnson, 53, pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to seven counts of breaking food hygiene regulations, at the Bimdoc Cash and Carry at Jamestown Business Park, in Finglas. Johnson was also ordered to pay €4,650 in prosecution legal costs after the court heard evidence that rat-droppings were found in food storage areas.

He was prosecuted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) after senior environmental health officer Chris Counihan carried out an inspection at Johnson's African food produce wholesaler in October last year.

Solicitor Adrian Lennon, for the HSE, told the court that Johnson's business exposed the public at large to risk.

In evidence, Mr Counihan told Judge John O'Neill that “there was significant evidence of rat infestation on the premises”. The inspector said that there was “ a large amount of rat droppings at a number of locations” which could have caused harmful diseases.

There was evidence of food spillage which would have attracted pests. A wall was filthy and the inspector noted a large number of dead flies and dirty cobwebs. A window pane was also missing which could have provided entry for pests.

Frozen meats were uncovered and and there was inadequate pest control procedures, said Mr Counihan. He said “a walk-in freezer was turned off when we arrived” and that should have been detected through routine monitoring.

Food packages were unlabelled making it impossible to detect their origin. “Some of the produce could not be identified, some meats were labelled at fish,” the health inspector said.

He handed in photos he had taken of the scene which Judge O'Neill described as “awful, the worst I have seen”.

After the inspection the HSE had to serve a five-day closure order on the premises. Mr Counihan agreed with the defence that there have been significant improvements since then.

Johnson has hired a private consultant to carry out regular health inspections at his business, Judge John O'Neill was told.

Mr Lennon for the HSE said the accused had a prior conviction in 2013 for food hygiene offences, which the judge heard were less serious. That resulted in a €30,000 fine later reduced on appeal to €1,000 which has not yet been paid.

Counsel defending said father-of-six Johnson, who is from Nigeria, and has been living in Ireland for a number of years. The defence pleaded with the court to note that he had pleaded guilty and that an onerous fine could put him out of business.

The defence said that when the inspector called to the business Johnson had been away sourcing products. There were also issues between him and the landlord of the building in which he leases his premises.

Johnson understood the seriousness of the case and was sorry, his lawyer said.

Judge O'Neill noted the improvements and the guilty plea but said Johnson had also been convicted of offences in 2013 and despite that the photos furnished in court showed a blatant disregard for the regulations just over a year later.