The owner of a popular Canberra cafe has had charges against him dropped, relating to a salmonella outbreak that saw more than 100 people fall ill in 2017, and has also escaped conviction on an unrelated charge.
The ACT chief magistrate Lorraine Walker did not record a conviction against Rick De Marco, owner of Ricardo's Cafe at the Jamison Plaza, after he pleaded guilty to one count of failing to comply with the food standards code.
Mr De Marco had originally faced eight charges before prosecutors dropped the other seven charges against him.
Ms Walker told the court the original charges were far more extensive and were based on numerous complaints of illness caused by salmonella.
However, the chief magistrate said there was no correlation between Mr De Marco's plea of guilty to the individual charge and the salmonella outbreak.
The single charge against Mr De Marco related to breaches discovered by health inspectors. These were uncovered containers of food in a refrigerator and a single-use container being reused.
However, while the food was kept inappropriately, Mr De Marco's defence barrister Jack Pappas noted the food was kept at the required temperature in the refrigerator.
He added that Mr De Marco's two businesses, Ricardo's Cafe and Space Kitchen in Woden, were significant contributors to the local economy by employing about 50 people and training apprentices.
Ms Walker said that the instances were not at the lowest end of offending, "they were pretty close".
She said she had been provided evidence which had shown Mr De Marco's reputation had suffered significantly due to reporting of the salmonella outbreak and the closure of his business. She also said his business had suffered financially.
Mr De Marco had gone beyond the requirements of health inspectors since the closure in February 2017, the chief magistrate said. He had personally undertaken extra training in food health and safety, had required all staff to undergo online training and he contracted an external company to perform regular extensive cleaning of the cafe's kitchen.
Ms Walker said it was an instance where, due to the nature of the breach and Mr De Marco's good character, it was appropriate to not record a conviction.
Speaking outside court Mr Pappas said the case against his client had been a beat up and it should not have been prosecuted in the way it had been.
Mr De Marco's solicitor, Zoe Jones, said there had been no investigations at any point that could prove a connection between Ricardo's Cafe and the salmonella outbreak and said the rumours spread on social media had had a lasting impact.
"There was no evidence from the outset of any link between any action of Ricardo’s staff and the salmonella outbreak," Ms Jones said.
"The firestorm these allegations have made will obviously affect the business."
There were 75 cases of salmonella confirmed by ACT Health during the outbreak in February 2017, with some people requiring hospitalisation.
Mr De Marco said at the time that salmonella had been discovered on a dishcloth and tea towel but was adamant no salmonella was found on food or equipment used to prepare food.