A routine food safety inspection in a restaurant revealed its highly insanitary premises
A routine food safety inspection revealed a significant failure on the part of the Defendants when processing food, to take all necessary steps to prevent the likelihood of food being contaminated.
In the recent Magistrates Court of South Australia decision of Rural City of Murray Bridge v Xinstar International Pty Ltd, the Rural City of Murray Bridge (the Council) secured convictions, fines and costs totalling $18,972 against a food business for serious breaches of the Food Act 2001 (the Act).
In April 2022, Officers of the Council made several observations in their scheduled inspection of a restaurant where a microwave exhibited rust and dirt, an uncleaned dishwasher, and the premises was surrounded by grease-caked walls and floors. A pile of raw red meat was covering the base of a food processor located on the floor of the kitchen. Some of this meat was in contact with the floor. When queried by the Officers, the staff stated that the machine was too heavy for one person to lift onto a bench, and that there was not enough room on the bench. Further probing revealed that staff knew the risks associated with this conduct and still allowed it to happen.
Strewn around its premises lay at least 40 to 50 dead cockroaches stuck to adhesive strips of electrical tape observed to be peeling away from a gap in a wall, as well as other live cockroaches on the floor of the food preparation area. Some food had expired and there was uncovered food in the open with meat stored in damaged bags. An improvement notice was issued which required the owners to thoroughly clean the kitchen, ensure all food items are protected from potential contamination, ensure ingredients used are not out of date and ensure all staff involved in food handling operations were adequately trained, among others.
Two months later, a follow-up inspection was conducted to determine compliance or otherwise with the improvement notice. On this occasion, the Officer observed food stored on the floor, the floor of the food preparation area still caked with dirt and other visible matter. While the Defendant was able to produce records of a recent pest inspection, the recommendation that follow-up treatment be conducted frequently was not actioned, and at the time the follow-up inspection was conducted, multiple live cockroaches were still observed.
Given a lengthy history of non-compliance by the business with the Act and the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code (Code), the Council determined to prosecute the business and its owner for breaches of Section 21 (failure to comply with a provision of the Code) of the Act, in relation to this conduct.
Norman Waterhouse represented the Council at all stages of the prosecution. The Defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to 10 counts, with His Honour recording a guilty conviction and imposing a fine of $14,400.
The Defendant, in its sentencing submissions, indicated that its director, who has purported to sell the restaurant, was in poor health during the first part of 2022. This was, however, rejected by Magistrate Soetratma who held that it could not excuse the offending. Council inspectors ‘had been attempting since 2018’ to help the Defendant bring the restaurant up to standard, but to no avail. The offences are so severe in that it presented significant hazards to human health.
His Honour noted that the compliance with the requirements of the Act and the Code is necessary to ensure that customers pay for quality products that are prepared in sanitary conditions and not hazardous to health and safety.
Take Home Messages
The significant penalties imposed by the Court in this prosecution demonstrates the importance of councils exercising their responsibilities to ensure the provisions of the Act relating to the safe handling of food, maintenance of the food premises and equipment to a standard of cleanliness, and the storage of food in such a way that it is protected from the likelihood of contamination.
Furthermore, this prosecution illustrates that following through prosecutions to the end is highly effective for seeking compliance with laws on an individual level (specific deterrence) and a general level (general deterrence. A successful prosecution of food-related offences is a visible way to reassure the community that council officers are fulfilling their important roles.
Should you wish to discuss any material raised in this article, or any other issued related to the enforcement and administration of the Food Act 2001, please contact Paul Kelly on +61 8210 1248 or email@example.com or Dale Mazzachi on +61 8210 1221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.