Former owner of Hong Restaurant in Pumpherston, Mr Pui Lung Wan (also known as Colin Wan) received a Prohibition Order at Livingston Sheriff Court on 9 February 2017, following a report by West Lothian Council's Environmental Health team regarding food safety failures at the business.

The case followed a visit to the premises on 24 August 2015 by officers to carry out a routine food safety inspection. The condition of the premises and food safety practices were a concern and officers had to take action to stop food being prepared through serving a remedial action notice. Officers were concerned regarding the poor standards of cleaning throughout the premises, the poor handling of food and risks of contamination, and the staff working without supervision or suitable food safety training. The business changed ownership between the time of the offences and the court hearing.

Following the court order being issued a press release was picked up by a number of news outlets, and the council put the article, including some photographs of conditions at the time of inspection, on the corporate Facebook page. The articles highlighted the issues subject to court action, but also indicated that the business remained improvement required in terms of the Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS). There was a substantial response to the information provided, from the current owners, their regular customers and the public at large. The Facebook article was viewed over 100,000 times, received over 820 comments, and over 240 shares. These were an interesting reflection of public concern and awareness of food safety. There were many interesting and colourful comments.

Many people picked up that the business was under new management, but not that it was still improvement required in terms of FHIS. Some of these reflected positions of not caring either way as they just liked the food. For most however the story produced a response of disgust at the conditions. It was also interesting to see that on the restaurant’s own Facebook page people had picked up on the story and were willing to offer their thoughts. It is hoped that the business will realise the consequences of this type of publicity. In terms of the court action itself, this highlighted a further frustration in the current legal process.

This business had a poor track record, and Mr Wan had previously been reported to the Procurator Fiscal (PF) for prosecution. However, the PF held that no case would be pursued at that time. The poor performance continued, and a further report had to be submitted. The purpose of the reports was to ensure a successful outcome and seek the prohibition of a food business operator who is clearly unwilling or unable to operate safely.

Thankfully in this case the Sheriff recognised the importance of food safety and agreed to serve the Prohibition Order on Mr Wan. West Lothian Council has seen a significant reduction in the number of cases they have reported to the PF for food safety in recent years. This has been assisted by the appropriate use of remedial action notices, introduction of FHIS and also by improving standards in many businesses. However, there remains a small percentage of premises where prosecution has to be pursued for the primary objective of prohibition. Doing this is time consuming for officers, and is further frustrated by the slow progress through the courts and legal system.

Craig Smith, Environmental Health Manager, West Lothian Council