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Dairy Company Fined for False Listeria Reports

November 12, 2019

Epicurean Dairy Limited, which makes dairy products under "The Collective" brand, and its former directors have been fined $483,000 NZD for repeatedly failing to report positive Listeria results taken from the company's factory in Avondale.

Epicurean Dairy Limited, whose products include yoghurt, puddings and ‘suckies' for children, and the company's former general manager, Angus Allan, pleaded guilty to 10 charges of failing to report positive environmental Listeria results.

Former operations manager, Ilya Pyzhanhov, plead guilty to five charges of deliberately withholding positive environmental Listeria results. He was convicted and fined $60,000 earlier in 2019.

The charges follow an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) after they received an anonymous tip-off from a confidential informant.

From 2012 to 2016, Epicurean Dairy repeatedly failed to report positive Listeria results taken from the floor in an area where yoghurt and cheese were produced at the company's factory in Avondale. During this time, 190 positive environmental Listeria results went unreported.

"The part of the factory that was producing positive environmental Listeria results was an area where the most stringent food safety requirements applied," explained Gary Orr, Director of Compliance at MPI.

"It's clear that if the company had reported the positive results, there would've been significant costs associated with remedying the problem — including replacing a cracked and unhygienic floor, as well as [halting] production due to the work that needed to be done."

"This was serious, systematic and sustained deception — there's no other way to describe it," he continued.

Legal consequences

Failure to comply with Australia’s food safety laws and regulations can have serious financial and legal consequences for a company, its directors, managers and employees.

Despite claiming that he was kept in the dark by former operations manager, Ilya Pyzhanhov, Angus Allan was held personally responsible for the company’s failures to report positive Listeria results and fined $54,000.

Epicurean Dairy was fined $369,000; court costs of $80,000 were also imposed.

In a statement, the company apologised and said they wanted to “reassure everyone that food safety is a top priority for us and that no unsafe products [were] ever sold to the public."

The company has since replaced the worn factory floor where Listeria was present; however, according to Orr, “there is no excuse for this type of blatant and sustained offending.”

“When offending of this nature is detected, we will hold those responsible for it to account.”

What is Listeria?

Listeria is a bacterium that commonly causes food poisoning in Australia. It is most often caused by eating contaminated foods, such as improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurised milk products.

Listeria can cause illness in healthy people, but it is especially dangerous for pregnant women, who may suffer miscarriage, stillbirth or preterm birth if they become infected with the bacteria.

Listeria can also cause deadly infections in newborns, even if the mother experiences minimal or no symptoms; young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are also at greater risk from Listeria infections.

Classified as ‘vulnerable populations’, these groups are both more likely to contract a food-borne illness and to suffer with more severe symptoms, life-threatening complications (e.g. blood infection, inflammation of brain tissues) or to die from the infection.

Listeria is extremely resilient and can survive refrigeration and even freezing, which is why safe food preparation and hygienic practices are of critical importance in any food business, from food manufacturing plants to restaurants and fast food chains.

Community organisations that serve food to vulnerable populations, such as childcare centres or aged care facilities, must maintain extremely high standards of food safety and hygiene in order to prevent unnecessary and potentially fatal symptoms.

Food safety training is vital to ensuring food safety and compliance with federal, state and territory laws and regulations.

Food Safety First (FSF) delivers high-quality online food safety courses for all sectors of the Australian food industry, including our online food handling course and our nationally recognised Food Safety Supervisor course.