Horror stories on the menu

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014

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Vermin, food past its best before date and no hand-washing facilities in kitchens are just some of the horror stories uncovered in Invercargill eateries and shops.

A report commissioned by the Invercargill City Council has uncovered the dirty secrets in 39 food premises in the city.

The damning document shows the problems are not just isolated to takeaway shops, with three grocery stores, a delicatessen, a health shop, cafes, restaurants and dairies all involved in the sting.

Invercargill City Council environmental health manager John Youngson said the report was a surprise and a disappointment, a sentiment shared by the hospitality industry.

Among the problems listed in the report are food being stored in refrigerators and freezers with temperatures too high, icecream scoops not dried properly, encouraging bacterial growth, and in one case a mice infestation was found.

Three premises did not have hand-washing facilities and two premises did not have soap, towels and nail brushes for washing hands with.

Youngson's biggest concern was the four food premises with high-risk temperature issues, a danger for food poisoning, he said.

"It [the report] found things that I didn't expect."

Youngson contracted the Christchurch company to peer review the council's processes and ensure inspections were being carried out effectively.

It highlighted issues that the council would address during the overhaul of its environmental health department, he said.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he was shocked by the report, which he had not seen, and would move swiftly to fix the issues.

Youngson said the council had already moved on the report and premises had already made improvements to get up to standards.

Eateries will now have to provide food management plans and the council would look at bringing in a rating system, so people could easily see how the food premises scored on health and safety.

Hospitality New Zealand board member and Winton publican John McHugh said he believed the rating system would be extremely effective.

The report was a surprise to him but said it should not put people off from visiting reliable Southland eateries.

"We have some very good eating establishments in Southland and people will soon find out where they are."

But the report also highlighted that many businesses had been registered by the city council when they did not comply with structural requirements.

The report recommends the council take several steps to improve the food safety in Invercargill.

They include following up on problem-plagued premises more regularly, starting a public education campaign, encouraging food workers to be trained and making food safety material available in Chinese and other relevant languages.

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