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Canberra Centre cafe owner convicted over salmonella in salads

Date

Natasha Rudra

The owner of a Canberra Centre food court cafe has been convicted after health inspectors found salads contaminated with salmonella for sale in 2010.

Anna Ciardullo, the owner of the Nutmeg Cafe in the shopping centre food court, pleaded guilty to one charge of selling unsafe food likely to cause harm.

The ACT Magistrates Court heard health inspectors went to the cafe in October two years ago and took swab samples from food on display, including a tandoori chicken salad, a chicken pesto salad and a Greek salad. Tests later revealed two salads - the chicken pesto and the Greek salad - were contaminated by salmonella bacteria.

The cafe was given an improvement notice which was lifted three days later on October 25. Ciardullo and her husband, Vincent, faced multiple charges for breaching food safety regulations but prosecutors later dropped all charges against Mr Ciardullo and all but one of the charges against Anna Ciardullo.

The court heard that in the intervening two years there had been no suggestion of further food safety breaches. The Nicholls woman gave evidence that her husband had drawn up a comprehensive plan to prevent food contamination.

She said staff now had instructions on how to prepare food hygienically and she supervised them closely.

The court heard Ciardullo came to Australia in the 1990s as a 22-year-old from Italy who spoke no English and had worked for the past 13 years in the food and beverage industry.

Defence barrister Jack Pappas said his client had ''made good in a foreign country'' and took pride in her work.

''She takes delight in cooking and preparing food, she likes to have that relationship with customers who come to the shop,'' he said.

Mr Pappas said salmonella bacteria were hard to kill and contamination was very difficult to detect without laboratory tests.

He said it was not possible to tell what level of bacteria was found on the salads.

Mr Pappas argued Ciardullo should not be convicted of the offence, saying she was of excellent character and faced a potential blight on her name and the name of her cafe.

But prosecutor Anthony Williamson said the idea of moral blame was not at play and health authorities were focused on the results of testing and inspections.

He said things were not perfect at the cafe and Ciardullo had been issued with an improvement notice.

Mr Williamson said while the offence was not the most objectively serious, salmonella had still been found in food put out for sale and other food vendors needed to be deterred.

''In the majority of cases that come before the court, the court is dealing with unsafe acts … but here we actually have present [salmonella] bacteria,'' he said.

Magistrate David Mossop noted Ciardullo's ''glowing'' character references.

He took into account that the couple had worked to rectify all the issues raised by the health inspectors and had drawn up a comprehensive food hygiene plan. But he said there were no particularly extenuating circumstances that justified a non-conviction order. He convicted Ciardullo and fined her $1350.

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