February 7, 2022 | Susan Napier-Sewell

One Dead & 31 Sick from Undercooked Pub Dish in England; Suspended Sentence for Chef

undercooked pub dish

True story: 32 people chose to celebrate a church harvest dinner of shepherd’s pie at the Crewe Arms in Northamptonshire, UK; of the 32, one died and the other 31 suffered food poisoning from the mince-filled, undercooked pub dish.

The former head chef of the Crewe Arms, John Croucher, was sentenced at Reading Crown Court to a four-month suspended jail sentence in connection with the 2018 undercooked pub dish incident.

Croucher received the reduced sentence for admitting contravening food regulations. He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to placing unsafe food on the market. He was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the community and pay costs of £4,000 ($5,300).

Elizabeth Neuman, who was in her 90s, died after eating the shepherd’s pie in October 2018 while 31 other people reported food poisoning symptoms after falling sick from Clostridium perfringens. Shepherd’s pie is a dish containing ground meat and mashed potatoes.

Neil Bellingham, the pub owner, and landlord admitted to three charges of contravening food regulations. He was fined £9,000 ($12,000) and must pay £1,000 ($1,300) in court costs.

The Bobcat Pub Company was fined almost £3,000 ($4,000) for not registering a food premise, failure to implement and maintain a food safety management system, not providing staff with supervision, instruction or training, and placing unsafe food on the market.

How the undercooked pub dish incident unfolded: Croucher told the court he had been rushing at the time of the incident.

“I really hate to say it, but I think I was rushed. I was rushing. This is something I will never forget. Because of it, I am a better chef and it is just a shame the cost of it had to be what it was,” he said, according to media reports.

undercooked pub dish

The court heard that the ground meat in the shepherd’s pie was not cooked properly the previous night before being put in the refrigerator. The next day, it was cooked again with mashed potatoes but the meat temperature wasn’t checked. Poor cooking, cooling, and reheating of various ingredients led to the dish becoming contaminated with Clostridium perfringens.

The day after the event, West Northamptonshire Council received a call from the event organizer to report people had been taken ill with severe stomach cramps and diarrhea.

An investigation by environmental health officers from the council and Public Health England (now the UK Health Security Agency) found numerous food hygiene offenses that led to the prosecution.

The outlet now has a five-star food hygiene rating; but, in 2017, it was one star, meaning major improvements were imperative.

“This is an incredibly sad and tragic case which demonstrates the serious consequences of failing to follow food safety regulations, and I commend the officers whose detailed investigation helped to bring these individuals to justice in the interests of public safety,” said David Smith, from the council.*

A report from The Guardian portrayed the chef’s statements concerning the undercooked pub dish**

“Defending himself in court, Croucher, 40, said: ‘I hate to say it, I really hate to say it, but I think I was rushed. I was rushing.’ He said he had worked in kitchens for 20 years and was now ‘a better chef’ because of the ‘horrible, horrible circumstance.’

“He added: ‘Remorse is an understatement. This is something I will never forget. Because of it, I am a better chef and it is just a shame the cost of it had to be what it was.’

“The judge, Sarah Campbell, said: ‘On 8 October 2018, 35 villagers went to the Crewe Arms for a harvest meal. Thirty-two people ate the shepherd’s pie. A healthy and well person died of a gastrointestinal haemorrhage induced from vomiting. No sentence I pass can reflect the loss caused to the family.’

“Croucher was the chef that night. The mince was not cooked properly and was placed into a pan with iced water. Croucher needed to leave, so he put the mince in cling film and put it in the fridge overnight. Having left it, he cooked it again and added warm mashed potato. He did not take the temperature when it was served.”

Source*: Food Safety News,” News Desk, “Suspended sentence for chef after 1 dead and 30 sick from shepherd’s pie,” December 6, 2021.

Source**: The Guardian, “Chef sentenced after one killed and 31 left ill by undercooked shepherd’s pie,” by Steve Morris, Dec. 2, 2021.

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