Further concerns arise over food safety in Victoria

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th January 2012

Concerns continue to arise about the administration of food safety enforcement in the State of Victoria.

Australian Food News recently reported (21 December 2011) the calls made for an official investigation into poor food safety administration by the Victorian government.  In the article, Managing Principal of food-specialist law firm FoodLegal, Joe Lederman, stated that there was a “serious lack of co-ordination” in Victoria that had resulted in “every council seemingly doing its own thing” when it comes to food safety enforcement.

This week, it was revealed that a pizza shop in Ballarat, Victoria, had been closed down after it was linked to a very widespread salmonella outbreak. The number of salmonella cases is already estimated to be 19 and may in fact have been higher (and a possible connection exists with the death of at least one person).

No enforcement action was taken until well after this serious illness outbreak had occurred.

The Victorian Health Department’s acting chief health officer, Rosemary Lester, has now publicly praised the restaurant owner for cooperating with her department – despite the department failing to find any other source of the outbreak.

Ms Lester, whose background is in epidemiology, said her team is still investigating one of the pizza shop’s egg suppliers. However, the Victorian department is yet to initiate any prosecution against the pizza shop proprietor.

Under the State’s Food Act (and similar provisions in other Australian States and Territories), the law imposes statutory obligations on the seller of food to be selling food that is safe and fit for human consumption. This requirement applies irrespective of the traceability or source of the problem.

FoodLegal’s Mr Lederman said that the law recognises a serious offence whenever a shop sells food that makes people sick. Mr Lederman, who is the Food Law editor of the Australian legal encyclopedia Halsbury’s, said that the legal standard of ‘strict liability’ applied under the Food Act, and  lack of intention by the food seller to sell unsafe food was not a legal defence.

“If there was an extraneous cause, this could be presented in evidence in the court proceedings.

“However, there appears not to have been any prosecution initiated against the shop owner in this case”, he said.