NZ consumer affairs show fined almost $40,000 for false food safety information

I get called regularly by some journalist wanting to stick it to the man – to show the shoddy side of the food business. And what better place than some local café.

I advise caution and getting the story right – journalistic basics which have substantially declined over the past 20 years, especially at the local level.

On June 16, 2009, New Zealand’s TV3 consumer affairs program, Target, showed an undercover camera segment looking at the hygiene standards of several Auckland cafes.

The New Zealand Herald explains food was bought from the cafes and then samples sent for laboratory testing, one of which came back with a high reading of fecal coliform. The show attributed that sample to Ponsonby-based Cafe Cezanne.

Target wrote to Cafe Cezanne’s owners telling them a chicken sandwich from their cafe had tested positive for faecal coliforms. However, the letter contained incorrect information about the date of purchase.

The owners questioned whether the sample was from their cafe but Target went ahead with the broadcast.

The program was forced to apologize the following week after it found a mistake had been made in labeling the samples, and the show broadcast a statement saying: "Due to a human error by a former Target staff member coding the results, we cannot confirm which cafe produced this high fecal coliform count".

Cafe Cezanne complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) that the original item and the apology were inaccurate and unfair. They said the apology had not stated that the sample had been wrongly attributed to Cafe Cezanne.

In a decision released today, the BSA said it had found Target was in possession of two documents, which unequivocally exonerated the cafe, before the apology.
The documents showed the contaminated sample was collected and delivered to the laboratory on a different day from the sample from Cafe Cezanne, and it was therefore clear the contaminated sample definitely did not come from Cafe Cezanne.

That, uh, oversight resulted in almost $40,000 in fines.

TV3 broadcaster TVWorks was fined $5000 for the incorrect allegation and another $5000 for the apology, which it said did not unequivocally clear the cafe.
It was also ordered to pay the cafe owners’ full legal costs of $28,068.75, and to broadcast an apology and summary of the BSA’s decision on Target.

As well, it must publicize the decision on radio stations and in a newspaper advertisement.

Norovirus suspected after 41 mourners at funeral get sick

Getting sick and dying while eating food in a hospital sorta sucks. So does going to a funeral and picking up norovirus.

New Zealand health authorities are investigating an outbreak of suspected norovirus linked to food after more than 40 people fell ill following an April 28 funeral and reception for a leading Auckland musician.

A spokeswoman for the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said yesterday that it was notified on May 3 that some people who had attended the function had become sick with gastro-intestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

The public health service spokeswoman said the food supplied at the post-funeral function, which included sandwiches and deli items, was suspected to be the source of the infection.

The caterer, who did not wish to be named, said she supplied around three funerals a week.

She said food poisoning had not been established yet in the case of the funeral, and the woman who made the sandwiches that day has a certificate in food handling.

"Everything was bought fresh on the day."

Fresh does not mean safe.

You want a maggot with that McDonald’s?

An Auckland, New Zealand, healthcare worker has been left ‘disgusted’ after finding a maggot in her McDonald’s burger box.

Linda MacDonald had just finished eating an Angus Burger Combo, which she bought from the Pt Chevalier McDonald’s, when a colleague she shared the burger with pointed out something "wiggling" in the box.

The 59-year-old grandmother spat out her remaining mouthful and ran to the toilet to throw up.

"It was awful," she said. "They offered me McDonald’s vouchers, and I told them:

‘No way am I ever going to set foot in there again’. The cheek of it – it’s so wrong."

McDonald’s NZ boss Mark Hawthorne said he did not believe the maggot came from within the restaurant. It was dead when the company conducted tests.

NEW ZEALAND: Closed restaurant required to display low inspection grade for two months

Currently living in New Zealand, and having the opportunity to travel around it, I’ve seen my fair share of restaurant inspection grades. Like many other developed countries, letter grades displayed at a food business are popular here, and are meant to relay food safety information to consumers.

In the Auckland region, where many districts have a grading system operating, some districts require a food business to display a low grade for a period of time after they’ve been closed due to risk to public health.


The owner of a west Auckland restaurant forced to close in May because of an infestation of mice has been found guilty and fined.

Waitakere City Council staff carried out a routine inspection of Hobsonville’s Sanjang restaurant earlier this year and were shocked to discover a serious rodent problem among dirty, unhygienic conditions.

Council contract solicitor David Collins, said,

"The officer determined there was a risk of food contamination and required the premises to close.”

"The owner contracted a registered pest control firm who treated the property the same day… The premises were allowed to reopen with an E grading the following day after re-inspection."

Council environmental compliance spokesman Alan Ahmu says the restaurant was only allowed to reopen after it was thoroughly cleaned and had to display an E grade for the next two months.

Mr Ahmu says Sanjang has just passed a reinspection and is now B grade.

I’m still waiting to meet Bret, Jemaine or Rhys from the popular New Zealand show Flight of the Conchords, pictured right.

Only A grades on Shortland Street

While living in Doug and Amy’s basement I watched a lot of bad TV – we all did. Since moving to New Zealand little has changed. Instead of the Real Housewives of New York or DOOL, I now watch Shortland Street every night at 7pm.

Last night while two of the characters were scandalously dining I recognized a restaurant grading card in the background, an A grade. The program is filmed and set in Auckland, New Zealand.

The picture is a little shotty, but so is the acting.

Murder Burger’s staff wear Meat is Murder T-shirts – and only serve meat

Murder Burger, a New Zealand gourmet burger store that opened in the swish Auckland suburb of Ponsonby last year, used the following for an on-line Help wanted ad:

"We need a bunch of people to hang out with, make burgers and talk shit.”

The ad specifically requested student nurses and teachers to apply, explaining, "I’ve gone out with two nurses and two teachers and they were all awesome."

Not wanted were politics students ("Nothing personal, we just don’t understand you") or methamphetamine addicts.

"Again nothing personal. It’s just that the benefit of you being able to work seven shifts in a row is pretty much outweighed by the probability that you will one day flip, grab a knife and become Mr Stabby."

I’m all for it, as long as the burgers are verified 160F with a tip-sensitive thermometer.