Would you like mouse droppings with that? Nearly 40 Wellington eateries have been revealed as breaching hygiene standards in the past year.
City council records given reluctantly to The Dominion Post show 38 premises were issued with cleaning or repair notices in the 2012/13 financial year, including four that were forced to close.
The number of closures is an improvement on the previous year, when eight places were shut within a six-month period, and the council says there is a pattern of improvement across the city.
The list of notices is publicly available information but it was released only after the council told the businesses on the list that it was "extremely reluctant" to provide their names to The Dominion Post.
The closures involved Kaffee Eis in Frank Kitts Park, Bar Edward, the Wadestown Kitchen, and R&S Satay Noodle House, all for traces of vermin being found.
All reopened within 24 hours.
There are 1300 eateries in the city. Council operations and business development team leader Raaj Govinda said there had been a general level of improvement, with the number of eating places recording excellent or very good hygiene ratings increasing from 82 per cent to 91 per cent.
Last year eight were shut between February and July, and in the previous five years the average number of closures was six a year.
Many operators were being more proactive, signing up for the council's voluntary monitoring scheme that put "more onus" on daily monitoring and record-keeping around cleaning practices, Mr Govinda said.
The places that were closed were all in older buildings where mice and rats were more common, he said.
In a letter sent to all premises before the list was released, Mr Govinda wrote the council was not able to withhold names from the public, though it was "extremely reluctant" to provide the list and "has not done so willingly".
Other councils, including Auckland and Palmerston North, list the hygiene ratings for all eateries online. Yesterday, Mr Govinda said Wellington was considering doing that but it did not want to put businesses at risk.
"In general, council is not in the business of trying to close people. We have got a regulatory duty."
People had to take note of when closures happened and remember that, if a place was open, it was safe to eat at, he said.
But Wellington Restaurant Association president Mike Egan said it was important for restaurants to be held accountable, as closure notices were often a last resort.
"Those places would have had ample opportunity normally to put things right and it's about a failure to either take it seriously or react appropriately."
Mice were a common problem, so it was important to have good pest control systems in place. Putting ratings online could be a "big carrot" for good practice, he said.
It was good to hear there was improvement across the industry.
"It is such an important thing to reassure the public that the places they're going to are complying."
THE CLOSED BUSINESSES IN 2012/13
Kaffee Eis (Frank Kitts Park)
Closed: October 10
Reopened: October 11
Owner Karl Tiefenbacher said that, because the cafe was on the waterfront, rodents were an ongoing problem and "occasionally the baiting that occurs doesn't quite live up to its requirements". The cafe was closed after mouse droppings were found inside, he said. It was the first time in eight years that there had been a problem there, and it was open again the next day after a "micro clean". No mice had come into contact with any food: "There was no food safety hygiene issue for customers."
The Wadestown Kitchen
Closed: December 18
Reopened: December 19
Reason: Vermin and cleaning
Owner Andrea Holmes said the closure happened 90 minutes before the suburban cafe was due to shut, and it was open again the next morning. A mouse got in under a gap in the door, and droppings were found inside, she said. They immediately cleaned the cafe and called pest control. "It was very brief. We were duly horrified, as all places are." Apart from the "blip", the cafe maintained an excellence hygiene rating, she said. The gap under the door has been repaired.
Closed: August 16
Reopened: August 17
Reason: Vermin and cleaning
Owner James Henderson said he was still in dispute with the council over the brief closure. An inspector had found mouse droppings that were about three months old in a cleaning cupboard, and there were no signs of recent rodent activity. "It actually disintegrated, it was that old." The next day a second inspector told the bar to operate as usual, he said.
R&S Satay Noodle House
Closed: July 6
Reopened: July 6
Owner Sarah Leong said the noodle house shut for three hours, while everything was cleaned. Droppings were found in a back room, but the kitchen was clean, she said. It had signed up to the council's voluntary hygiene programme and undertook rigorous checks daily. "The officers even come here for lunch."
CLAMP DOWN ON COUNCILLOR'S RESTAURANT
Even Wellington city councillors aren't safe from their own inspectors.
Kapai in Cuba St, which is co-owned by councillor Justin Lester, was one of two eateries issued with a repair notice during the past financial year.
A hot water tap in the kitchen was not providing hot enough water, which Mr Lester put down to the dishwasher repeatedly draining the tank. The tank had been "souped up" to cope with the problem, but the issue highlighted the problem of "inconsistency of interpretation" among city council inspectors, Mr Lester said.
"Some [inspectors] are great ... but what we've found is that, depending on the inspector you strike, sometimes you'll fly through because they're reasonable. But some are less than ideal to talk to."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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