The Lebanese Restaurant Al-Shami has now reopened following the temporary closure imposed on the business last week.

Al-Shami, of Walton Crescent, Jericho, was shut down by Oxford City Council inspectors on 19th March following a routine inspection which found failures in food hygiene management and staff not properly trained in safe food handling practices.

In response to the Council’s actions Mimo Mahfouz, owner of Al-Shami, spent over £25,000 refurbishing the restaurant kitchen and installing new fridges and freezers which will now keep raw and cooked meat separate. An additional area has also now been created specifically for the preparation of raw meat.

The restaurant was issued with a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order on Tuesday 16th March after officers found what the council have called ‘widespread evidence of cross contamination between open raw meat and high-risk ready to eat foods including cooked chicken, yoghurt, cheese and salad’.

The order, which was then upheld by Oxford Magistrates on Friday 19th March, dictated that the restaurant be closed indefinitely, until the Council’s Environmental Health Officers were satisfied that any risks to health had been removed.

Richard Kuziara, Environmental Health Officer, commented at the time: ‘When dangerous conditions such as these are found we will always take the necessary action to protect the public.

‘The premises will only be allowed to reopen when we are satisfied that they can produce food that is safe to eat.’

The improvements have been met with praise. Kuziara commented that, having interviewed all Al-Shami kitchen staff, he was satisfied that employees were now well aware of hygiene issues.

The restaurant’s food hygiene rating, which totalled zero stars according to last week’s inspection, cannot officially change until another random routine inspection is performed. However, Mr Kuziara commented that the establishment would have achieved a three star rating had the inspection been carried out this week, after Mahfouz had implemented improvements.

Mahfouz reflected on the recent events: ‘I feel that I have learned a lot from this and I thank environmental health for opening my eyes to a lot of things.’
He added, ‘everybody was shocked that we were closed, but we are concentrating on hygiene now at least 10 times more than before, we owe it to our customers that we are in top condition everywhere’.

Despite its recent bad press, students seemed keen to revisit Al-Shami, which has featured in The Which? Good Food Guide for the past twenty years. Claire Jonstone, a student living near to Walton Crescent, commented, ‘If the Council is happy now that the restaurant is hygienic, then I would definitely go – the food there is good’.

Another undergraduate from the Jericho area agreed ‘I’m sure Al-Shami will still be fairly popular among students.’

Information regarding the cleanliness of Oxford’s various food businesses is available through the City Council’s ‘Scores on the Doors’ scheme, which publishes restaurant information and hygiene ratings.