McDonald’s Leytonstone fined £475,000 after mouse dropping found in cheeseburger wrapper

Fast-food giant McDonald’s has been fined nearly half a million pounds after a customer in East London found a mouse dropping in their cheeseburger wrapper.

Lisa Honeycomb bought the burger from the drive-through at McDonald’s Leytonstone on October 7, 2021 and found the dropping halfway through eating it.

She complained to Waltham Forest Council, who sent staff to inspect the restaurant the following week. They discovered an ongoing rodent infestation, which included droppings in the food preparation area and a “decomposing” mouse on a mop head.

The food hygiene inspectors ordered the 24-hour branch to close on October 15, citing an “imminent risk to health”.

On Tuesday, at Thames Magistrates’ Court, the fast food giant was ordered to pay £475,000 for violating food hygiene laws.

District Judge Susan Holdham said: “McDonald’s is a very reputable company. When customers go to McDonald’s, they expect and have the right to expect the highest standards in food hygiene.

“This is not some backstreet burger or kebab bar – children go to McDonald’s as a treat.

“The premises was dirty, this was built-up grease and dirt caused by non-existent or ineffective cleaning over long periods of time.”

Judge Holdham questioned why neither the branch’s staff nor the company’s third-party pest control company Ecolab had previously reported seeing droppings or dead mice.

The court heard that American food safety corporation Ecolab had a contract to inspect the Leytonstone branch for pests twice a month but had “missed” obvious signs like a “mummified” mouse on top of a fryer.

Grease and dirt built up on the wheel of kitchen machinery (Image: Waltham Forest Council)

The judge said it was also “very serious” that Ecolab could not explain why its most recent visit before the branch was shut down, carried out at 6am on September 20, lasted for only half an hour.

However, she described the infestation as “a failing on a local level” and noted that McDonald’s otherwise has a “good” food safety record.

Despite directly managing about 166 restaurants in the UK, the company only has one previous conviction for a hygiene issue in 2012.

Ian Thomas, representing McDonald’s, said the hygiene failure caused “great consternation” at the company and is now used as a training exercise.

He added that the company’s chief operations officer Gareth Pearson had personally come to court to “understand what happened”.

Following the hearing, a spokesperson for McDonald’s said the company apologised “unreservedly” for the hygiene incident and any upset caused.

They added: “We are committed to the highest standards of health, safety, quality and hygiene. In this instance, we fell short of the standards we set ourselves across all our restaurants.

“While we have extensive food safety systems in place, unfortunately these were not adequately implemented at this restaurant on this occasion.

“Following the incident, a full review of policy and procedures was undertaken at both a local and national level to ensure an issue of this nature does not occur again.”

Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet member for community safety Khevyn Limbajee, said: “We are grateful for the quick thinking of the customer in this case for reporting the matter to the council for investigation.

“There was a significant risk posed to the health of residents and visitors to Waltham Forest and, as such, the council had no option but to take formal action in this case.”

Earlier this year, McDonald’s Restaurants Limited admitted to one count of failing to comply with the Food Safety Act and two counts of failing to put in place adequate measures to control pests.

It was today ordered to pay a £475,000 fine, £22,000 in legal costs and a £190 victim surcharge.

Ecolab’s vice president of communications and change leadership Kate Askew said: “We were not in court today and therefore we are not in a position to comment any further and it would be unfair to those involved in the case to do so.

“However, what we can say is that we would not comment on our customers´ operations, and additionally, that in any facet of the work we do, we do it with the utmost concern for health, safety and the environment.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter