Countdown passes buck on mouldy pies

Vanessa Wilson's children, six-year-old Stevie-Lee Clarke and her four-year-old brother Beau Clarke, had empty plates on ...
CHRISTINE CORNEGE/FAIRFAX NZ

Vanessa Wilson's children, six-year-old Stevie-Lee Clarke and her four-year-old brother Beau Clarke, had empty plates on Sunday after the pies they were meant to have for dinner from Countdown were past their use-by date and mouldy.

A Hamilton mother decided to get some pies for a quick and easy Sunday dinner.

But when she ripped into the packet, the Big Ben Pies had gone mouldy.

Vanessa Wilson then checked the side of the carton and found the pies were almost two weeks past their use-by date of January 2, 2017.

The mouldy Big Ben Pies Countdown sold a Hamilton mother.
VANESSA WILSON

The mouldy Big Ben Pies Countdown sold a Hamilton mother.

So she trundled back to Countdown, in the suburb of Nawton, pies in hand, looking for an explanation and a refund.

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The expiry date on the Big Ben pies container Countdown sold to a Hamilton mother on January 15.
VANESSA WILSON

The expiry date on the Big Ben pies container Countdown sold to a Hamilton mother on January 15.

"I didn't want a replacement," she said, though she was offered one. "I have been put off pies for a while now."

As this was the second time in three months Wilson had bought something from that Countdown which was mouldy - the other was a block of cheese - she asked that the store manager call her. 

"It was really so I could see what in-store procedures they had."

But the conversation with manager Anita Acton left Wilson with more concerns.

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"I was just horrified with the attitude. She said, 'Oh, we don't check any of that stock, that's [the supplier's] responsibility. They have reps that come out.' "

That's when Wilson approached Stuff and Stuff started asking questions.

Wilson was right to be horrified, said Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin.

The relationship a customer has is with the store where the purchase was made, not with the supplier, Chetwin said.

"So, if this is the case, then the store is in breach of the Fair Trading Act in directing the customer elsewhere. The goods it sells should also be fit for purpose, and it sounds as though the pies were not fit for purpose," Chetwin said.

When contacted by Stuff, Countdown passed the buck again. Acton refused an interview and referred questions to Countdown regional manager Lee Bishop.

"He is dealing with the issue now," she said.

Bishop, too, refused an interview and passed the matter to the Countdown communications department.

Countdown communications adviser Keith Cowden-Brown also refused an interview and sent a few bullet points in an emailed statement on behalf of James Walker, Countdown's general manager of corporate affairs.

"We've looked into what's happened and a mistake was made in our store which resulted in this product being sold when it shouldn't have been," the statement said.

"We've addressed this with our team and reiterated our processes. We've also let our supplier know that this was our mistake.

"Our group manager has called the customer and talked her through our strict food safety processes."

Wilson said she was not talked through any food safety processes - just told that Countdown had them. 

But Wilson was still marvelling at the Nawton store manager's reaction to her initial questions.

"What food safety procedures do you have in store just ensure something has been spot checked?" Wilson asked Acton in their phone call. "She said we don't have any of that."

Then Wilson got on the phone to Big Ben and explained the situation.

Big Ben informed her that it was Countdown's responsibility.

Wilson felt like she was in a game of pass the buck. That's when she came to the media.

"I thought, this is food we are talking about. It's not just one item, it's not the first item I have bought that has been mouldy there."

The store manager's response? "Oh, it happens," Acton had told her.

Wilson felt like there was a lack of accountability and ownership

"It makes you wonder what else is falling through the cracks.

"This is food. This is a perishable item - why is it so relaxed?

"Where's the safety standard? It's scary."

 - Stuff

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