A FOUR-STAR hotel where inspectors found rats and out-of-date smoked salmon has bounced back with an improved hygiene rating. 

As previously reported by the Gazette, Oakley Hall Hotel was given one out of five for hygiene after an inspection in March. 

A spokesman for the 50-roomed residence, well-known as a wedding venue, has welcomed the most recent inspection where the hotel was awarded four out of five for hygiene. 

He said they were left frustrated at having to wait three months for a re-inspection, which is the policy of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, as advised by the Food Standards Agency. 

Details of the March report have only just been made public by the council, because the hotel was previously the subject of a ‘legal investigations’. 

The first report notes that the hotel had some ‘major non-compliance with food hygiene law’ including the inspector finding a “large quantity of food past its use-by date found in the fridges throughout the kitchens”, which was deemed to be “legally unsafe”. 

Smoked salmon with a use-by-date provided by the manufacturer of October 12, 2018, was found in the marquee walk-in fridge some five months after it should have been thrown away. 

The report said: “It is an offence to sell or expose for sale food with an expired use by date. You must check your stock daily and dispose of any out of date food.”

Oakley Hall was also found to have an “active rat issue in the cellar” with droppings found along with two live rats spotted. Inspectors instructed the hotel to use treatment to eliminate the pests, clear debris and droppings behind a chest freezer, ensure that contaminated areas are disinfected along with equipment, dispose of contaminated food and dispose of or sanitise any potentially contaminated linen. 

It was told not to use the area for open food storage, and to monitor for further activity and signs of contamination. 

The inspector issued the hotel with safety guidance about the potentially fatal Weil’s disease, which is contracted from the urine of infected rats.

The report added: “Despite senior management being aware of the rat activity in the cellar this information had not been passed on to kitchen staff on duty. You must ensure that there is good communication between management and staff to ensure that the food and equipment stored in the cellar doesn’t present a contamination risk.”

The inspector was also concerned about two vacuum packing machines for ready to eat (RTE) and non-ready to eat food, with staff unable to operate the non-ready to eat machine when asked for a demonstration.

The report warned of the possible dangers of cross contamination, saying: “You must now use the RTE vacuum packer for non-RTE foods only unless an engineer fully dismantles, cleans and disinfects the equipment.”

A spokesman for the hotel has criticised the March report, arguing that the one-star rating was down to a “single piece of equipment” which failed during the inspection. 

Referring to the rat problem, he said it was being dealt with when the inspector visited, adding: “In common with other similar venues of this size, setting and nature we have routine monthly precautionary pest control visits.

A comprehensive programme is in place covering the built estate, the wider 315-acre estate and the grounds.” He said no pest activity has ever been found in any of the kitchens. 

Following the inspection, the hotel has adopted a new labelling system for its food, and has reassured customers who might have had concerns. 

The spokesman said the majority of the out-of-date food was a “small batch of salmon which had in fact already been frozen before the use by date correctly. It was simply defrosting but unfortunately had not been labelled correctly.”

He said the hotel rating was restricted to four stars at the re-inspection, due to council policy, adding: “We are looking forward to our next inspection and feel confident that we will regain our five-star rating. 

“Apart from this unfortunate and short lapse, this is something we are proud to have enjoyed for some 15 years of trading.”

He added: “This has been a difficult experience for everyone including the very dedicated staff and management of the hotel.”

Built in 1795, Oakley Hall has a fascinating past. The author Jane Austen was a frequent visitor and it is mentioned fondly in Austen’s letters to her sister.

The hotel, which underwent a restoration project in 2014, has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.