“Worst food poisoning outbreak in NSW” leads to $42,000 fine

Posted by Isobel Drake on 6th January 2009

A couple has been fined $42,000 for causing the worst food poisoning outbreak in NSW – which lead to 319 people falling ill in 2007.Long and Linda Fou, former owners of the Homebush French Golden Hot Bakery, each pleaded guilty to four charges of handling and selling unsafe food in March 2007.

“This case is a wake-up call to all food businesses – especially those who cut corners, ignore food safety laws and put consumers’ health at risk,” NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said today. “This was an appalling food poisoning incident where 136 people were hospitalised and a further 165 people sought medical treatment. So in this case, there was a total of 319* people who were sick, which placed an extra demand on our health system, and also resulted in lost time at work.”

“A thorough investigation by the NSW Food Authority found that the source of the food poisoning was raw egg mayonnaise used in Vietnamese-style pork and chicken rolls. The food was stored and displayed at temperatures at least double what health guidelines require, causing dangerous Salmonella bacteria to multiply rapidly,” Minister Macdonald noted. “The culprits behind this terrible outbreak were warned two years earlier of their poor food handling practices but failed to heed warnings and advice by the Food Authority.”

In 2005, the proprietors received an improvement notice from the Food Authority instructing them to use commercially-made pasteurised mayonnaise instead of high-risk raw egg product made on the bakery premises.

Eggs can contain bacteria on the outside of the shell that can easily transfer to the white and yolk when broken. This is why foods like raw egg mayonnaise can cause Salmonella food poisoning, particularly if it is later stored unrefrigerated for long periods.

Passing sentence, Chief Industrial Magistrate Gregory Hart said that the outbreak had the potential to be much worse. “Whilst I consider the impact of the Salmonella outbreak to have been extremely serious, I am of the view that there could have easily been even more serious and long-term consequences of the outbreak.”

A 2008 Food Authority survey of 125 NSW bakeries showed 91 per cent of nearly 700 samples were microbiologically satisfactory and safe to eat.

But some bakeries fell short in the Vietnamese-style rolls category with almost 20 per cent tested in the marginal category.

“The Food Authority and councils are continuing their vigilance in monitoring the safe use of raw egg products in bakeries and working closely to educate businesses to ensure outbreaks of this nature never occur again,” Mr Macdonald advised.

Details of the prosecution have been added to the Food Authority website at: www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/aboutus/offences/prosecutions.

* 18 people reported being ill but did not seek medical attention