Dodgy food businesses need to scrub up

Dodgy food businesses need to scrub up

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.

Hygiene standards need to be improved at many food outlets.

Hygiene standards need to be improved at many food outlets.

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an outlet from Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and Sumo Salad for poor hygiene, and a Coles Express for selling out-of-date products.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      I can think of several corner shops, and even some large service station chains, that sell out-of-date products, or products within days of their use-by date, without telling customers.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.

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