Sydney eateries need to lift their game

This Christmas will be my first away from snowy Canada and the family. Although I’ll miss the Filion family funtivities, I will not miss the cold. Rather I’m quite looking forward to seeing kangaroos for the first time, and attempting to surf in sunny Sydney.

While I generously apply the SPF, New South Wales (NSW) eateries will be preparing for new food safety requirements in the coming year. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 10% of NSW eateries failed to meet inspection standards in 2009, and as a result a mandatory food safety supervisor will be required starting next year.

The State Government will today release its first food safety report card, detailing the amount of inspections, fines and prosecutions handed down over the year.

Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said,

”The report shows 10 per cent of food businesses did not comply with the standards and required ongoing intervention.”

The minister said the Government had amended the Food Act and a mandatory food handler training program would come into effect to ensure every food business had a designated food safety supervisor.

NSW lists inspection results online where premises are Name and Shamed.

Australia: Restaurant owner sues food critic for bad review

This Christmas I will be venturing to Australia for the first time. My flatmate graciously invited me to spend the holidays with her, and the chance to potentially bump into Mr. G (Summer Heights High) was something I couldn’t pass up.

While I search for the famous mockumentry star, a Sydney restaurateur will likely be continuing her ugly legal battle against a food critic reports

In evidence in the NSW Supreme Court on Wednesday, Ljiljana Gacic sobbed as she launched a diatribe against the critic, Matthew Evans, whom she described as "low life".

She said the review had been "done for a purpose", and told Justice Ian Harrison she had put on 57 kilos in the six years since its publication because of the stress.

In September 2003, Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald published a review referring to "unpalatable" dishes, describing the restaurant’s overall value as "a shocker" and scoring it 9/20 – in the "stay home" category. The restaurant went into administration in March 2004.

The article has been found to convey defamatory meanings, including that the trio "incompetent" as restaurant owners because they sold unpalatable food and employed a chef who made poor quality dishes.

Mr [Tom] Blackburn [ SC, for Fairfax – the newspaper] then suggested that either Ms Gacic was "malevolently and maliciously fabricating it or you are deluded".

The judge is now holding a hearing relating to defences – including truth – put forward by Fairfax, and on the amount of damages, if any, which should be awarded.

Milking cows on the Sydney Habour bridge

The bridge over Sydney Harbour connecting Sydney with the business area of north Sydney is an engineering marvel.

Ben, Dani and I walked it one night after too much fine wine with some Australian colleagues. I’ve jogged across it many times. And walked, like in this pic from 2004 (right).

But I haven’t seen any cows.

On Sunday, for the first time since the 1930s when farmers paid tuppence to move their stock across the span, dairy cows, along with about 6000 people are expected to attend a picnic on the coathanger as part of the Breakfast on the Bridge event, the centrepiece of the Crave Sydney festival.

To help the cows acclimatise, a hectare of Kikuyu turf from Pitt Town in Sydney’s far north-west will be transported to the heart of the city and laid over the tarmac.

Danielle Krix, the farm manager at Hurlstone Agricultural School, said,

”For some people that come from the city, it’s going to be an eye-opener that milk comes out of an actual cow and not a carton.”

Evergreen Turf is the company responsible for trucking in the turf to cover the bridge roadway and its chief executive, Dean Holden, said it would take about eight semi-trailers to transport it and three hours to lay it.

”Three o’clock in the morning is always fun to be doing a bit of work … but while looking over Sydney Harbour it will be a magnificent experience.”

There will be a cow milking display for the ticket holders.

Breakfast on the Bridge will run for two hours from 6.30am, with the bridge closed on Sunday from 1am to 1pm.

Australian state cracks down on backyard butchers

A New South Wales Food Authority crackdown on backyard butchers has caught unlicensed operators producing and selling smallgoods from homes in Sydney.

The NSW has been targeting illicit meat processors and confiscated almost 120 kilograms of homemade nem chua – a Vietnamese-style fermented pork.

The authority made 10 seizures of the product from illegal processors operating out of homes that were then selling the meat to butchers’ shops, restaurants and private consumers.

Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said the crackdown, which started in March, would continue.

Sydney KFC sued for $10 million after 7-year-old develops Salmonella and brain damage in 2005

Monika Samaan was seven years old when she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with salmonella poisoning after eating a Twister from the Villawood KFC outlet in Sydney’s south west in October 2005.

She has acquired spastic quadriplegia and a profound intellectual disability.

Today, Monika arrived at the New South Wales Supreme Court in a wheelchair (right) as her just over $10 million lawsuit against KFC got underway.

The family’s lawyer, Anthony Bartley SC, told the court in his opening address that Monika had been an extremely bright and active young girl before her illness.

Bartley said there was little doubt Monika’s illness was caused by salmonella on the chicken she ate, adding, "You will hear unsettling and disturbing practices in the kitchen, including the kitchen KFC operated at its Villawood store.”

To keep up with orders and deliver them with speed to customers, KFC’s "young, enthusiastic" staff would frequently help each other out. But by manning different work stations, the staff could easily have transferred bacteria from raw chicken to the cooked product, he added.

Food service food safety failures made public in Sydney; public benefits

The Sydney Morning Herald this morning – this being Sunday morning in Australia – has a huge feature on the effects of the New South Wales state Food Authority taking a more, uh, vigilant approach to restaurant inspections.

The newspaper concludes that 40 per cent of all restaurants, takeaways and other food businesses in NSW were caught breaching one or more of the critical food handling practices when first visited by an inspector.

That may not be an entirely fair representation. Lots of places have at least one critical violation, and in the U.S., how a critical violation is defined can differ from state-to-state, and even county-to-county. There needs to be some sort of control or comparative group to determine whether that number is high or not.

But it sure sounds gross.

Inspection rates are woefully inadequate in some local councils, and there is often a lack of follow-up.

Anna Cenfi, part-owner of the Belli Bar, got it right when she said inspections conducted in the past few months were more thorough than in previous years, but that she had received three letters warning that a food safety inspection was imminent.

"I think that warning people that they are coming to inspect is ridiculous. They should just spot check everyone, even if it’s just once a year. I’m not worried for myself but I know a lot of dodgy places out there."

Journalist Mathew Moore does clearly state that whatever the limitations, “making this information public we can now expect improvements in standards that transparency and public scrutiny of government information can bring. The Food Authority deserves praise for releasing this information and giving the public far more data than it can get in any other state. It’s an important addition to the name and shame list … With its website and release of the statewide data, NSW has gone further than any other state.

“Yet it still lags behind many cities in Britain and the US, where the results of every restaurant inspection are posted online. New York City even allows consumers to search restaurants according to their number of violation points.

“Governments there have learnt what the NSW Government is now only beginning to realise; there are major public health benefits in shining a public light into the kitchens of every food business that serves the public.”

Restaurants challenge ‘name and shame’ in Sydney

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a Sydney restaurant is considering legal action against the NSW Food Authority over its controversial name-and-shame website.

Satasia opened in Balmain 28 years ago and has become one of the most popular restaurants in Sydney’s inner west.

The owner, Andrew Lum, says that reputation is in tatters after his eatery was fined by the Food Authority, then included on its name-and-shame list alongside rat- and cockroach-infested restaurants.

The database was launched in July to try to improve hygiene standards.

But Mr Lum and other restaurateurs argue its format is unfair.

Several businesses, including Satasia, have consulted lawyers about suing the State Government.

But the Food Authority appears to be immune from legal action, including defamation, under section 133G of the 2003 Food Act, which states: "No liability is incurred by the state, the minister or the Food Authority, for publishing in good faith any information contained on a register."

A University of Sydney senior law lecturer, David Rolph, said,

"The Food Authority clearly takes the view that when you balance it out between the rights of the trader and the right of the public not to consume food prepared in unsafe places, public interest has to prevail."

Lavender Blue Cafe, at McMahons Point, joined the list in November after receiving a fine for a broken probe thermometer. The manager, Andrew Menczel, said: "The list is a good idea in principle but to lump everyone together is wrong. There should be clearer categories for different offences.”

New South Wales, Australia – this is your public health inspector

Every restaurant and cafe in NSW will receive a random health inspection in the next 12 months after Government health bosses were left reeling by the results of their latest food safety crackdown.

Health and safety inspectors have issued 160 fines in four weeks. The NSW Food Authority launched a "name and shame" website in July to try to improve hygiene standards. Department officials expected to uncover kitchen nightmares but did not envisage dishing out 1000 fines to 600 businesses in 10 months.

The name-and-shame list is updated on Tuesdays and has had more than 1.5million hits since it was put on the Internet.

Live crabs in loo highlight Sydney’s name and shame

A fish market that stored crabs in a toilet cubicle is amongst the newest addition to the NSW Government’s name and shame list, available at

Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said Jemes Fish Market on Liverpool Road, Ashfield, in the city’s inner west, was hit with two fines of $660 for storing live crabs in a toilet cubicle.

"This is one of the most outrageous cases of food storage I have ever heard about. It is unhygienic and is just not fair on consumers who pay good money for their food."

Among the other 45 additions to the website this week is Jesters at Forestville in Sydney’s north, fined $1980 for having containers of raw foods encrusted with food waste and cockroach activity, and Choy Restaurant in Belmore Road, Randwick, in Sydney’s east, which was been slapped with three fines worth $1980 for having a dead rodent in the storage area, as well as vermin activity and unclean premises.

Sydney KFCs fined $73,000 for filth

Franchisee QSR Pty Ltd, the owner of two KFC restaurants in Sydney’s south, has been convicted of 11 charges of breaching food hygiene laws between May 2007 and February 2008 and has been fined $73,000.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said the potential health issues were compounded by the fact the company ignored directives to lift its game.

Inspectors discovered the problems after a complaint from a member of the public.

Mr Macdonald said the case was a "textbook example" of how consumer complaints helped inspectors police food safety in NSW.

But KFC defended QSR Pty Ltd, saying the breaches were just a "temporary breakdown" in standards.

KFC — Food Safety Assured (right).