A Chinese restaurant in Adelaide and two of its employees have been fined a hefty $100,000 for failing to maintain proper hygiene conditions, breaching the state’s food standards code.
The Adelaide Magistrate’s Court heard the Imperial Peking restaurant had cockroaches and rodent droppings in the kitchen and food hadn’t been stored safely.
The restaurant, owned by Mustwin Investments, pleaded guilty to 31 breaches of the code earlier this week.
The restaurant’s manager, Joel Guan, and director, Di Huang, also plead guilty to six breaches.
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The company was fined a total of $104,000 plus costs.
The court heard “only dumb luck” meant no one had fallen ill as a result of eating at the restaurant, according to The Advertiser.
The breaches included failing to protect food from contamination, an inability to maintain restaurant cleanliness and a failure to eradicate and stop pests from living on the premises.
Prosecutor Paul Kelly from the Eastern Health Authority said the restaurant had been the site of 12 unannounced inspections and eight complaint-based inspections, according to The Advertiser.
“Based on the litany of failures by the defendant it’s fortunate that there were no serious illnesses as a result,” he says.
The court also heard when the authorities tried to shut the restaurant down, the employees posted a sign saying it was because of a “gas leak”.
Imperial Peking had been issued with 12 improvement notices since 2006, three warnings and a prohibition order in December 2012.
Kelly said inspectors had seen cockroach faeces in the fridge, cockroaches in uncovered sugar. The pests were also said to have covered the benches, walls, floors and cooking equipment and food containers.
FoodLegal managing principal Joe Lederman told SmartCompany a typical fine for a restaurant would be up to around $50,000.
“There aren’t many which reach the $100,000 mark, in Victoria at least,” he says.
“This is a substantial penalty, although not unheard of. They probably had some horrendous photos as evidence. For this type of penalty there would typically be rat droppings on the floor and a serious risk that people could get very sick.”
Failure to avoid contamination was a major breach for Imperial Kingdom, and the court heard inspectors had found fish on top of a box of vegetables and uncovered chicken feet lying on the floor of the restaurant’s walk-in freezer.
Lederman says the legislation can vary from state to state, but generally restaurants must adhere to the same conditions.
“When you start a food business you don’t just register the name, you have to set up a food safety system, be registered as a food premises and demonstrate that the employees have sufficient food safety training. Like in the case of a liquor licence, there also needs to be someone responsible in the event something does go wrong,” he says.
“The Food Act of each state can be different, but they say the same things. Council to council things can also be interpreted slightly differently… standards tend to be stricter in capital cities.”
Lederman says businesses are generally given warnings before court action is commenced.
“They will be warned to get their act together and then inspectors will come back after a week or two… Normally most governments give at least one warning and give the business time to clean itself up.”
Lederman says prosecution of hygiene breaches can occur in ethnic restaurants because of a number of factors.
“It happens if they are popular, grow very quickly and need to cope with the large influx of additional customers when problems occur such as not buying enough fridges. The owner of the restaurant needs to invest more to address the food safety risks,” he says.
“When food is then stored unrefrigerated it attracts pests… it snowballs and gets worse.”
In defence of its breaches, Imperial Kingdom argued cultural differences had been a factor.