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Dodgy food businesses need to scrub up

Hygiene standards need to be improved at many food outlets.

Hygiene standards need to be improved at many food outlets.

I recently had dinner at a fast food restaurant during a busy day of university lecturing. The mezzanine seating area above the kitchen had a dozen tables and none were cleared of rubbish. Dirty plates, leftover food and old wrappings were an awful look for an emerging food chain.

A nearby customer complained about the filth and blew up when a waitress brought her meal, did not clear the rubbish, and left empty-handed. Normally that would be enough for me to leave and never return, but I was in a hurry and it was too cold to eat outside.

This terrible experience made me wonder how many other food businesses have appalling hygiene standards, despite state governments naming and shaming offenders.

It’s remarkable what goes on. I gave up on a chicken shop forever after noticing the former owner had raw chickens sitting in the rotisserie waiting to be cooked. Who knows how long they had been there?

I’m no hygiene freak. But a few experiences in the past month have put me off visiting any small business with lax food preparation standards. Life is too short to be poisoned or have your day wrecked by a dodgy curry or festering food.

What’s your view?

* Are food-hygiene standards improving or deteriorating?
* What are your worst examples of terrible food hygiene in public restaurants?
* What are the main causes of poor food hygiene in food businesses?
* Have government name-and-shame campaigns of hygiene offenders made a difference?
* Do governments need to be more aggressive in naming and shaming offenders?

It’s not just small food businesses or emerging franchises that risk their customers’ lives with poor hygiene. The NSW Food Authority last week named and shamed an outlet from Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and Sumo Salad for poor hygiene, and a Coles Express for selling out-of-date products.

To be fair, it was only one store in chains that have dozens or hundreds of stores. But big franchise systems, with all their rules and regulations, should have zero tolerance for hygiene offenders. In theory, poor hygiene practices should never happen in such systemised businesses.

I can think of several corner shops, and even some large service station chains, that sell out-of-date products, or products within days of their use-by date, without telling customers. Buying today’s newspaper is about the only safe bet for freshness at some convenience shops.

Those in the food business would have a much better view on why some food businesses have lax hygiene standards, or are unable to maintain exemplary hygiene over long periods.

As an observer, I think the problem lies in systems, audits and training. It seems too many food businesses have low or no systems for ensuring consistently high hygiene, and if they do, their systems are not sufficiently audited to ensure staff always follow best-practice hygiene procedures.

I wonder how many small businesses and fast-food chains adequately train their staff on food preparation and hygiene. And how many managers check staff performance in this area and provide guidance?

Perhaps the biggest problem is business culture. In the restaurant I visited, with its dozen uncleared tables, the excuse was “we were busy tonight and had some new staff working”. That simply does not pass for the restaurant looking like a rubbish tip. Staff did not care about cleanliness.

Maybe they were paid poorly, worked to death, and could not care less. Or were simply following orders when it came to food preparation and hygiene as the company cut costs and corners to save money.

Whatever the case, poor food hygiene means much more than damaging customers these days and attracting hefty fines. It also means badly damaging brands and business growth.

The NSW Food Authority says there are less than 700 food businesses on its name-and-shame list, compared with 1200 two years ago. That’s progress, but 700 food businesses that have had lax hygiene, in one state, is a shocking statistic.

Nationwide, there must be thousands of food businesses risking the lives of tens of thousands of Australians each week with shoddy food handling.

It’s time to take the name-and-shame campaign up a few notches.

37 comments so far

  • A Fast food restaurant with a waitress ?

    Date and time
    August 28, 2012, 12:40PM
    • Another to avoid are the bakery chains where the employees think that wearing gloves is to protect their hands, not to keep the dirt away from the products as they slice and bag them. Money should not be handled, or hair brushed etc with the same gloves that then handle the products, but their training seems to be really inadequte in this area - a major turn off.

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 1:18PM
      • I agree. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago where an cafe employee stopped making coffees, pushed food material into a bin, then pulled out the bin liner and took the rubbish outside. Out of interest I watched to see what he would do next.

        On his return he picked up a broom and did a bit of sweeping, then handed the broom over to another employee. Then he brought his is arm up and sneezed into the elbow, then gave the sleeve of the jumper bit of a rub and when off to make coffees and serve customers. All these actions without washing his hands or wearing gloves. I complained to someone who I took to be the owner, but just got a funny look.

        Following this I had a good look around the cafe, and yes the place was dirty, bins not covered and next to washed cups and plates, dirt and food scraps under serving and prep areas.

        Needles to say I will not be going back there again, and I have made a formal complain to the Health Authority.

        Date and time
        August 28, 2012, 1:25PM
        • yes, always love the fish shop assistant, etc with the gloved hand who gives you the change with that hand!

          north coast
          Date and time
          August 28, 2012, 2:11PM
          • What gets me is how many of us will just accept our coffee despite the fact that they use the same filthy rag to wipe the frothing spout - alll day, every day. And no, the temperature will not kill the germs!
            Gloves are a joke - they use the same gloves for hours on all sorts of surfaces,noses,hair etc. Chefs know it is better to use bare hands and wash them under running water which has the anti-bac injected or use an anti-bac hand soap/gel.
            Most take-away food is never kept hot properly and some of the worst offenders are the big chains. Salad items are just a hotbed for bacteria.Lne day someone is going to come down with botulism. Too late then.

            Date and time
            August 28, 2012, 2:34PM
            • Agree. Some years ago, I gave up purchasing a lunch-time sandwich in favour of bringing food from home. Since then I have not suffered from any of the regular digestive upsets previously experienced.

              Date and time
              August 28, 2012, 4:00PM
            • High temperatures do kill bacteria....

              Date and time
              August 29, 2012, 9:14AM
          • As somebody who has happily eaten at roadside food stalls around the world for years... I probably wouldn't care and would eat there anyway if the food tasted ok. Then again, i don't think i've actually been ill other than a case of the sniffles in 20 years.

            Date and time
            August 28, 2012, 3:34PM
            • For my birthday I was taken to a very busy and up-market restaurant near Circular Quay. I ordered the steak and colcannon. It arrived on a wooden board (not the now-recommended bamboo chopping block). Looked great, tasted great - but I spent the night throwing up. My doctor suspected food poisoning and wondered if it were even possible to sterilize a wooden board of this kind. Or had it just had a quick and not very effective wipe over before I got it. My friends had vegetarian on plates and were just fine.

              Date and time
              August 28, 2012, 5:03PM
              • So we live in a first world country, and average 5 million cases of food poisoning a year. I live part-time in Thailand, where I've never had any dodgy food. It's always fresh, hot, and delicious. There are so many restaurants, any bad ones go out of business very quickly. We get what we are prepared to accept.

                Date and time
                August 28, 2012, 6:55PM

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