Indian rapped over peanuts in nut-free curry

The Lee Raj restaurant on Squires Gate Lane. It is now under new owners
The Lee Raj restaurant on Squires Gate Lane. It is now under new owners
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An Indian restaurant served up a curry containing nuts – despite being asked not to by health inspectors.

The chicken tikka masala dish prepared at the Lee Raj Indian restaurant – which has since been sold to new owners – posed a grave risk to people with a peanut allergy, a court was told.

Food inspectors test the temperature of lamb

Food inspectors test the temperature of lamb

The premises on Squires Gate Lane, South Shore, also had dirty greasy equipment, mouldy fruit and vegetables and a cigarette end was found in the food preparation room.

Former owner, Shahida Chowdhury, 48, of The Cove, Cleveleys, pleaded guilty to nine offences of breaching food safety and hygiene laws.

She was fined £700 with £350 costs and ordered to pay £70 victims’ surcharge by Blackpool magistrates.

Lynda Bennett, prosecuting for Blackpool Council, said inspectors sent the dish to analysts, who found it did contain peanuts.

In the last five months I’ve been trying to improve everything. If a customer has a problem, they can contact us and ask what is in a dish, but from next week they will be able to see what is in everything too

The inspectors also found lamb and rice not kept at the right temperature, evidence workers had been smoking in the food preparation room, greasy floors and dirty equipment such as freezers, a poppadum container and flour scoop, mouldy tomatoes and onions and no hand towels at wash basins.

The prosecutor added that the premises were rated as zero - the lowest possible standard.

Steven Townley, defending, said his client was a mother-of-five, with one child who was autistic. Because of her family commitments she relied heavily on staff. She sold the Lee Raj in January.

New manager Shaker Khan said customers can now be assured nut-free dishes will be safe to eat.

He said: “In the last five months I’ve been trying to improve everything. If a customer has a problem, they can contact us and ask what is in a dish, but from next week they will be able to see what is in everything too.”

The restaurant has been working to bring standards up to scratch, has refurbished, and launched a gluten-free range, he added.

In May, Mohammed Zaman was jailed for six years for the manslaughter of a customer with a peanut allergy, after the chicken tikka masala he served contained had them in.

Paul Wilson, 38, died from a severe anaphylactic shock after eating at Zaman’s Indian Garden restaurant in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, in January 2014.

And earlier this year, The Gazette revealed how fast-firm firms were toying with people’s lives by ignoring strict new food laws.

As well Lee Raj’s failings, a number of Blackpool’s 280 takeaways were found selling ham and pineapple pizza that actually contained turkey, and lamb rogan josh that was actually beef.

The new law, which came from Europe in 2014, requires any business that serves food to clearly state if it contains any of 14 specific allegens, including gluten, fish, eggs, nuts, and milk, among others.

The law also covers schools, prisons, hospitals, workplace canteens, and places where food is given away for free, such as food banks and soup kitchens.

Around 6,000 people have food allergies in Blackpool.

Cllr Gillian Campbell, Deputy Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “This case is absolutely scandalous and what we found during our inspection could have killed somebody.

“All restaurants have to obey strict laws around allergens and must know exactly what is going into their products that people may have an allergic reaction to.

“In other places around the country people have died from being given food with nuts in when they are allergic and it is extremely fortunate that our officers spotted this before anybody suffered a fatal incident. In those cases restaurateurs have also been jailed for manslaughter, which sends a message to all owners that they need to be on top of the food that they are serving. “Ignorance is not a defence and it is not good enough to say that your food might contain an allergen, you need to clearly state what allergens are in which meals.

“Peanut contamination of Indian dishes often occurs because businesses swap almond powder for cheaper ground nut mixes which contain peanuts. We would urge all businesses to be mindful of this. If any businesses need help complying with allergen laws then please contact our officers for help advice on 01253 478370 or see the Food Standards Agency website for further information”

“Other evidence of poor food hygiene in these kitchens such as greasy equipment, rotten fruit and used cigarettes are also completely shocking. Unfortunately, we do not feel that the seriousness of the crime has been reflected in the level of this fine on this occasion.

“If you run a food business then you have a legal and moral duty to make sure that your kitchens are kept clean and that you are looking after your customers’ dietary conditions. If you aren’t then we will not hesitate to investigate the premises and prosecute anybody who is not sticking to the law.

“I would advise anybody thinking of eating out or ordering a takeaway to check the food hygiene ratings system at www.food.gov.uk/ratings before you choose where to eat. The ratings may change regularly so it’s worth checking again each time before you order.”