A long-established farm shop in Bodmin which was ‘stunned’ after being given a zero-hygiene rating has assured customers that they are entirely compliant with hygiene regulations.

David Frost, who has traded as DF Fruit Supplies and more recently Celtic Produce in the town for 38 years, said that while in his view the zero-hygiene rating was vexatious, the business wanted to reassure customers that it had worked hard to minimise any issues and that the business was fully compliant after a reassessment.

The business was given the rating after some issues were highlighted that were, in the view of Mr Frost, minor. This included having a hand-wash sink eight metres away from the counter and displaying fruit past its best before date inside the store, despite being marked as discounted as a result and the assessor allegedly disagreeing with Mr Frost over the use of such fruit for jams and preserves.

Mr Frost added that in his view, he felt the assessment was designed to work against the traditional farm shop and that while he admitted there were some minor issues, the assessment process didn’t work with businesses but against them, and in his instance, it was a business that had not had any customer complaints.

After a report in an online news outlet regarding the zero inspection, which he felt was ‘exaggerated’, Mr Frost said that while customers in the local community had stuck by the business, it had had an impact on wholesale orders and that he wished to set the record straight.

He said: “We were shocked by how we were treated by the inspector, and customers who were in the store when the inspection took place asked about why the inspector was being, as they saw it ‘aggressive’ or ‘horrible’.

“It’s inevitable that in a traditional farm shop business such as ours, based in a farm building that is around 60 years old, we’re never likely to get five-stars but to get a zero was harsh in our view.

“We have taken on board what was said, but the truth is that things were raised this year that hadn’t been in 38 years of trading, so it’s not as if we deliberately didn’t do things.

“We exist to try and do the right thing for the Bodmin community. I felt as if we were chastised for not having everything wrapped in plastic, when we try hard to be as plastic free as possible, we felt as if we were marked down for not being a generic supermarket, and we’ve had zero complaints from customers about our produce, and many great reviews online.

“One example was the fact we sell fruit that is perfectly safe but past its best before date at a discounted rate for preserves or jams. It’s no different to how supermarkets give away food past a best before date to local food banks or the fact they’ve removed best before dates completely on some fruit and veg and encourage the customer to use their own judgement to reduce food waste. However, we were told by the inspector that having it on display indoors was wrong, so we were marked down for that, too.”

Mr Frost said there were seven issues which came about after the assessment which led to the zero rating.

He said: “As you probably know we got a bad report on our latest environmental health inspection. However, we are pleased to say that we’ve been reinspected and are now fully compliant.

“In our initial report there were seven points highlighted, which we want to cover off with you so you can see what improvements we’ve made on their recommendations.

“The first of these was cleaning. We have seven fridges on the premises, six were clean, however, the seventh which is a large walk-in container fridge that is used for low-risk storage wasn’t up to standard and need of a deep clean. Our cleaning sprays also weren’t up to standard, of which we used flash sprays, who knew?

“This is something that has never been highlighted to us before in any inspection, but we have now bought and use the right sprays as dictated to us.”

“The second was structural. Our hand washing sink was 8m away from our deli counters, this was deemed too far away and classed us as having no hand washing facilities, whilst in reality this was clearly not true, the box that needs ticking couldn’t be ticked. We have now moved our counters to be directly in front of the sink.”

“The third was allegations of selling unfit food. This is something we vehemently disagree with the inspector about, when fruits or vegetables go past their best, we sell them off cheap out the front for soups and jams etc, we have always done this. We have explained over and again that items that may not be at its best can still be used for preserves and other forms of cooking, and that to throw anything away just because it isn’t perfect but can still be used is a waste of food. Once any fruit or veg has gone too far past it’s best, we dispose of it.”

“The fourth was regarding electrical safety. This was an interesting one, as on the inspection this was never brought up or asked but came in the report. A trailing wire was mentioned in the report but when we investigated this, we couldn’t find what was mentioned.

“We were also asked to supply an electrical safety certificate, in 40 years of trading we have never been asked to supply one to an inspector, we haven’t had an inspection since pre-Covid, and it has never been mentioned previously.

“Perhaps we should have known better, but as a small business we spend most of our time focused on keeping things going rather than certificates. We now have an electrical safety certificate, and this has been supplied to them.”

“The fifth issue was about the control of pests. This was also something that confused us in the report, at the inspection we were asked about pests, we explained our pest reporting process, that we have a pest controller that visits regularly and that we haven’t had an incident with pests in a long time.

“The report came in, and the explanation of that process to show our due diligence had been stated as an explanation of an issue rather than what it was. There was a gap highlighted that needed sealing in their eyes but to us it was kept open for ventilation, this was another curve ball as we had never had an issue with this ventilation in any other inspection previously.

“So, working together we came up with a plan that fixed the problem. Other than fruit flies in the height of summer, we have prided ourselves on the fact we keep the place pest free considering we are situated right next to nature reserve.”

“The sixth was to do with management systems. We keep a full record of cleaning schedules and fridge temperatures etc. however, because we used our own and not the full safer food, better business pack we were again classed as having no paperwork.

“We also asked to have staff undertake a level two hygiene course in the report, but we have trained staff and supplied those after it was mentioned in the report. We now use the safer food better business pack, just to tick that box. “

“The seventh, and final was about allergens. Well, what can we say about this one? All our packaged products are labelled with allergy information, we believed that anything used as an ingredient it’s to be labelled which we do.

“However, we didn’t think the same applied unpackaged whole foods, hazelnuts in our refill section for example. We’re still not entirely sure as to what is right as there is conflicting guidance on the matter, we checked egg boxes from various shops for example none stated allergy information, yet egg is one of the 14 allergens that must be highlighted.

“But as the old saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry, so we now label everything that is one of the 14 allergens.

“We want to be open and honest with you about what has happened, and we do feel that we have been treated harshly on some of the things on the inspection. It should be a vehicle of support and help, not a hammer to hit us with and ignore all the positives. As a business we are always looking to improve and give our customers the best experience, something we will always strive for.

“Thanks to all of those that have given us so much support and positive feedback through this difficult time.”