Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The EHOs are back

Actually, they never went away but for some time little was heard about Environmental Health Officers in my neck of the woods. Now they are back in Westminster, whose Council seems absolutely determined to destroy the flourishing economy around retail, catering and entertainment. There are other things in the City of Westminster as well and why the Council has not tried to drive all the business out is incomprehensible. Perhaps, they will get round to it in 2013. (It is, incidentally, a Conservative led Council.)

Their latest wheeze is to ban the cooking and serving or rare hamburgers by restaurants and bars. No, I do not mean these are burgers that are hard to find or come from some rare kind of meat. It is the way they are cooked and the way many people, including me, like them. I also like steak tartare, which is probably next on the list of the Westminster EHOs, followed by rare or medium-rare steaks.

In today's Evening Standard the Council and its minions are defending themselves by saying that they have not banned rare hamburgers, merely made it clear that this was not something they approved of. Restaurant owners and managers know what that means: very soon the inspectors will be coming round and demanding that such things be taken off the menu. So, naturally and somewhat pusillanimously, a number of them have started taking those bloody (in the Shakespearian sense) burgers off the menu.

Inevitably, they are quoting a distinguished microbiologist, Professor Hugh Pennington:
James Armitage, Westminster city council’s food health and safety manager, said: “This is not about banning under-cooked burgers. This is about making sure customers are eating meat that is not a threat to their health. It is possible to produce burgers that can be eaten under-cooked but strict controls are necessary for this.
“We have enlisted the UK’s top expert on E.coli, Professor Hugh Pennington, to get this matter resolved and he has outlined that rare minced meat which is not correctly cooked and prepared can kill — we have to take that seriously and we believe the restaurant involved falls well below the standards required.”
I am not sure Professor Pennington likes the idea of being "enlisted" by some pipsqueak food health and safety manager but what he says is absolutely true: anything that is nor correctly cooked and prepared can kill. Come to think of it, things that are correctly prepared and cooked can kill. That is hardly the point. What is notable in this skirmish is that there is no reference of a single case of anybody becoming ill, let alone dying as a result of eating under-cooked hamburgers.

This is, in other words, our old friend, the precautionary principle, which says that all sorts of rules and regulations have to be imposed on businesses because it is within the bounds of possibility that something they do might harm somebody some time.

One chain of wine bars is fighting back.
It comes after council inspectors ordered Davy’s wine bar in St James’s to stop serving its £13.95 burgers underdone. The wine bar has challenged the authority’s decision at Westminster magistrates court in what is being seen as a test case when it resumes.
Looks like we shall have to support Davy's in their fight against the EHOs.


  1. In my experience Conservative councils and councillors are all big statist authoritarians. You wouldn't expect anything less when they take their lead from that idiot Cameron.

    I'm reminded of the episode of Fawlty Towers where Cybil tells Basil he can't have a bet on a horse. Basil then mutters "Yet another avenue of pleasure closed off". Of course he still makes the bet, but has to do it surreptitiously, as we'll all soon have to do to get our pleasures.

  2. At the height of the scare over BSE (mad cow disease) the sale of beef on the bone was banned because of the "precautionary principle" . My wife persuaded the butcher to sell us standing ribs of beef. He invoiced the bones separately although they remained attached to the meat.

    They were then cooked to perfection (pink in the middle) and we had an illicit beef party for pro independence campaigners. At the time it looked as if the ban might be permanent and I likened the event to the Greek custom under Muslim Turkish rule. Children of crypto Christians, who conformed outwardly to Islam, would be taken by their godfather to eat pork secretly.

  3. Westminster certainly tries very hard to drive out any business that it can license: sex shops and nightclubs are the classic example. You can see clusters of them just over the border in Camden and just over the river in Southwark and Lambeth.

    It is also not keen on any form of transport, and does its best to close roads and prevent parking of cars and chaining up (private) cycles.