A huge catalogue of basic hygiene failures putting public health at risk across the north and north-east has been laid bare for the first time.
Hundreds of inspection reports on kitchens which have failed to meet minimum standards have been released to the Press and Journal.
Upmarket hotels, top-notch restaurants and a private hospital were among the venues found wanting by environmental health officers.
Dozens of schools, colleges, nurseries, NHS premises and care homes have also been given “improvement required” status.
And supermarkets, mobile caterers, sports clubs and well-known High Street names are included in the roll call of inadequate care in the preparation of produce.
As many as one in ten of the approximately 10,000 registered premises across the area failed to meet standards.
In Aberdeen, the proportion is as high as 17% – a total of 383 different kitchens where potentially dangerous problems were found.
Most were guilty of breaching fundamental rules such as making sure raw and cooked foods were stored and prepared separately.
In one fridge, raw meat was found on top of open pots of chocolate desert.
Renowned food safety expert Professor Hugh Pennington said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the widespread flouting of basic safety principles.
The Aberdeen University academic said lessons learned from major food poisoning outbreaks were too quickly forgotten.
And he warned that while the statistics showed the vital role played by inspectors, the incidents highlighted may only be the “tip of the iceberg”.
There was a widespread failure in labelling – meaning staff had no idea how old ingredients in fridges and cupboards were.
A restaurant was criticised for regularly buying in lasagne which arrived with no indication of how long ago it had been made.
Products months past their sell-by date were found in one golf club freezer.
Temperature monitoring was patchy at best in many cases, with several places reprimanded for falsifying their records.
Rusty fridges, mouldy seals, badly-worn chopping boards and splintered shelves were among a plethora of cleaning issues.
Tin openers “encrusted” with old food were a regular bugbear.
Even when approved cleaning products were available, many staff were found not to know how to use them properly.
And inspectors were surprised to find a travelling candyfloss seller washing the equipment in the bath at their home.
A surprising number of premises had poor or non-existent hand-washing facilities – some lacking paper towels, soap or even running water.
Toilets which opened straight on to preparation areas and open doors allowing birds, bugs and animals to wander in were a common complaint.
A cat was seen strolling about the kitchen of one care home and beetles and rodent droppings were found on a number of occasions.
Prof Pennington said: “The trouble is that we learn lessons and then we forget them quite quickly.
“We are very busy – it’s human nature.
“It’s sad really. It’s all very simple stuff. You can get the rules down to a small number of very straightforward things that we should be doing.”