Adele Ferguson of The Age writes that food safety is again in the headlines following an investigation into the Grill’d burger chain.
The long list of food safety transgressions at hamburger chain Grill’d outlined in a series of leaked internal food and safety audit reports, internal documents, a council report, and dozens of photos from staff, triggered a social media backlash.
In an attempt to dilute the public’s disgust Grill’d announced it would hire a global food auditor to review its food safety and work practices.
But in the process of exposing the worker exploitation and uncleanliness scandal it became clear there was another scandal that has been festering away: an overall lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities of food hygiene regulations and fines that are so low they fail to act as a deterrent.
Take for instance, Grill’d in Windsor, Victoria, the local council, Stonnington, issued an inspection notice of “major non-compliance” in October 2018. It said it didn’t have effective cleaning systems in place, which is the basic requirement of any restaurant.
What was even more disturbing was the council admitting that the same non-compliances were happening every year and that “infringement notices may be issued if this continues”.
In other words, the council’s inspection notice and wishy-washy threats were ineffectual.
This was no better demonstrated in early December when a photo was taken and posted on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald websites of a mouse inside a tray of hamburger buns sitting on the floor at Grill’d in Windsor.
The council’s reaction was to keep the public in the dark. It refused to say how many years of non-compliance it had recorded at the Grill’d Windsor restaurant and its only reaction to the buns stored on the floor, which attracted a mouse in the pest infested restaurant, was that it would act if someone lodged a complaint.
On a broader level, it illustrates shortcomings in the food safety system in Australia. It seems the public only get to know what’s going on when it is too late.
The Victorian Health register of convictions of food safety is an eye-opener. In 2019 only a few cases went to court and received a conviction, which attracted a minuscule fine.
The laws may be strict but if they aren’t properly monitored and enforced then things fall apart.