The Food Standards Agency is to charge the retailer over its vending machines that sold unpasteurised milk
Selfridges is being taken to court for potentially putting public health at risk by selling raw milk at its flagship London store, the government’s food watchdog has announced.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) began an investigation last year after Selfridges installed vending machines selling unpasteurised milk supplied by Sussex farmer Stephen Hook in December 2011.
Unpasteurised milk may contain bacteria such as salmonella and E coli, which can cause food poisoning, and the FSA warned at the time that the move was in breach of food hygiene regulations designed to protect consumer health. Westminster City Council was also monitoring what was regarded as a highly unusual situation.
Today the FSA confirmed it would be prosecuting Selfridges and Hook for potentially putting public health at risk. It said in a statement: “Summons have been served to both parties and a hearing date has been set for 6 February at Westminster magistrates court.”
Raw milk dispensers are hugely popular on the continent, allowing customers to fill their own glass bottles. But in Britain the sale of raw milk is much more tightly regulated. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, unpasteurised cows’ milk can only be sold direct to consumers from farms or the farmer, including farmers’ markets; in Scotland its sale is banned outright.
Hook, of Longleys Farm, has been selling raw milk since 2007 and says his customers like the taste of the product as well as the perceived health benefits – he claims beneficial bacteria usually destroyed by pasteurisation can reduce childhood illnesses such as hay fever and eczema.
The bottles supplied in Selfridges carried a health warning demanded by the FSA, which read: “This organically produced raw milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health.”
Hook told the Guardian at the time: “Over the last five years I have sold hundreds of thousands of pints of raw milk and there has never been any illness.”
Last year the retailer said it did not believe the move was illegal. Its then food director Ewan Venters said: “We have always supported unique products like raw milk. We see ourselves, like many farmers’ markets, as a platform to launch a variety of choice for our customers to enjoy.”
Selfridges and Hook & Son were unavailable for comment.
In a statement the FSA said: “The Food Standards Agency has confirmed its intention to prosecute Selfridges Retail Limited and the farmer who supplied the company with raw drinking cow milk for sale, Stephen Hook, for breaches of food hygiene regulations.
“The decision follows a detailed investigation, after vending machines dispensing raw cow milk were installed at Selfridges, in 2011. The FSA will consider taking action where it has evidence that regulations have been breached.”
Hook stars in a feature film about milking – The Moo Man – which he is currently promoting at Robert Redford’s Sundance film festival in the US.
Guardian, 23 January 2013