YORK'S food safety inspectors have warned more restaurants and eateries that they could face prosecutions if they do not clean up their act.

Stuart Benson, manager of the city council's food safety unit, was speaking after York magistrates fined a Chinese restaurant for poor hygiene in its kitchen.

Yesterday, directors of the Willow Restaurant in Coney Street, married couple Tommy and Soo Mei Fong of Shirbutt Lane, Hessay, were together fined £9,000 plus £2,525 prosecution costs, after each admitted three offences of food hygiene breaches.

In February, another Chinese restaurant, the Jumbo Buffet, in Rougier Street, York, was fined £10,500 with £660 prosecution costs over hygiene offences.

"People dining out in York should be able to feel confident that food premises are clean," said Mr Benson outside court.

"The council's food unit tries to raise food hygiene standards through advice but, where this fails, we will take legal action to remove threats to public health."

Yesterday, Tony Stevenson, for the unit, said that on November 8, 2002, senior environment officer Alan Noonan had found "gunge" and "sludge" in the kitchen at the Willow, congealed liquid and grease on the floor, plumbing and some cooking equipment, food debris was lying on the floor, and liquid from raw chicken was leaking onto the floor.

He saw one chef running his hands through his hair while handling food and other staff breaching personal hygiene regulations.

Senior magistrate Gillian Sanderson said: "An aggravating feature of this case is there had been ongoing problems for some time with hygiene at the Willow Restaurant."

Chris Smith, representing the Fongs, said the problems may have been caused by the singular success of its continuous buffet-style meal, which had started recently, and a lack of trained staff. They had taken on extra staff for cleaning duties and all staff had now taken courses in food hygiene.

Since the inspection they had completely replaced the kitchen floor at a cost of just under £3,000, a dirty knife sharpener had been destroyed, and plumbing had also been replaced.

Updated: 10:35 Thursday, May 20, 2004