London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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City of London 1963

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London, City of ]

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Messrs. Thompson and Flynn, the two Public Health Inspectors who specialise in the hygiene
of catering establishments, report as follows
"At the end of the year, when one attempts to assess the achievements of the preceding
twelve months, seldom is there a sense of satisfaction at the extent and degree of improvements
which have been effected in the standard of hygiene, structure and equipment in restaurants and
licensed premises. The work can be compared to the painting of the Forth Bridge; it is a continuous
task which can never be completed.
Undoubtedly, in many instances, we have been successful in persuading caterers to improve
their premises and to install better equipment, but it is questionable whether, in spite of our
efforts, we have succeeded in inducing some caterers and their employees to adopt a more responsible
attitude in their approach to the necessity and importance of hygiene in the preparation
and service of food. Unless it is possible to alter radically the mental approach of food handlers
to this vital problem of food hygiene and make them realize that hygiene is a basic necessity and
not a luxury, the large capital which is being constantly expended upon improvements to premises
and equipment cannot secure the desired results. Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to convince
people who are engaged upon repetitive routine duties, of the persistent care which must
be taken at all times in order to prevent food becoming unnecessarily contaminated.
We have again stressed the great advantages to be derived from preparing, cooking and serving
food the same day. Not only does this procedure minimize any possibility of food poisoning
but it ensures a more attractive and palatable meal. Such a practise, coupled with the observance
of scrupulous personal hygiene, would provide a commendable "guiding light" for the whole of
the catering industry. Whilst the necessity for frequent hand-washing is, in these days of enlightenment,
appreciated by all responsible catering workers and their employers, it is difficult
to impose the requisite degree of discipline upon the many ordinary rank and file workers whom it
must be reluctantly recognised simply do not or cannot understand the grave implications of failing
to wash their hands after using the water closet.
During the course of the year extensive improvements have been secured in the equipment and
structural condition of kitchens and ancillary rooms in many restaurants throughout the City, but
again it is an unfortunate fact that these improvements have not always resulted in the maintenance
of that high standard of cleanliness which it is reasonable to expect. On the contrary,
some kitchens structurally sound, have been found upon inspection to be in a deplorable condition,
and the filth which has been allowed to accumulate as a result of the absence of regular and
thorough cleaning has been a source of disappointment and serious concern. We feel that even
though a caterer may not have ideal premises or equipment, the existence of such extremely dirty
conditions as we have seen are absolutely inexcusable. Often, when appropriate representations
have been made, the caterer has attempted to justify his failure to maintain a reasonable standard
of cleanliness by drawing attention to his difficulty of obtaining and retaining a full complement
of staff. Whilst staff shortages naturally cannot be accepted as an excuse for the existence of
dirty conditions, one must adopt a realistic approach to all such problems, and it is unfortunately
true that staff recruitment is the predominant difficulty in City catering today and is a source of
constant worry and frustration to both managers and proprietors. The continued shortage of competent
and conscientious staff is the limiting factor which retards the speedy advance, not only in
standards of hygiene but also in standards of service to customers.
Because of the overloading of the building industry, caterers are experiencing lengthy delays
in carrying out structural improvements, and few builders are today prepared to undertake quickly
the execution of small but essential works of maintenance. Generally, therefore, it will be seen
that City caterers are passing through a very difficult period, and whilst as Public Health Officers
we cannot relax our endeavours to maintain and improve conditions in catering establishments, it
would be unfair to ignore the genuine difficulties of the caterers which cannot, as in many other
industries, be solved by mechanisation. It is seriously suggested, however, that efficiency could
be increased and essential cleaning made easier if greater skill were exercised in the design and
structure not only of premises but of catering equipment. Sound and reliable advice is not always
readily available to many would be restauranteurs. If, in such cases, they would approach us at
an early stage, we would be in a better position to assist and guide them in making the best use
of the space available. As every one knows, space is at a premium in the City of London and the
restricted floor area available in the kitchen renders expert planning and sound construction even
more essential than if one were not constantly struggling to accommodate a "quart in a pint pot".
So far as equipment is concerned, it cannot be disputed that there is much room for improvement
In this respect caterers generally do not appear to be sufficiently selective. If they
refused to accept badly designed equipment, the manufacturers would have no alternative but to
give urgent attention to their criticisms. Potato peeling machines illustrate this point. Invariably
the makers of these machines conveniently forget that they have to be connected to an internal
drainage system and that labour would be saved if these machines were so designed and constructed
as to be self cleansing. Channels for the sliding doors of hot cupboards which cannot be
effectively cleaned; handles of ladles, etc. which are rivetted and soon come loose, thereby
providing harbourage for the multiplication of bacteria, are other examples of unsatisfactory