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ClubsACT Joins RiotACT, speaks on Food Safety

By ClubsACT - 3 July 2012 31

As a long time reader of RiotACT and given recent comments about food safety in the ACT, I thought it was time to join. RiotACT is a Canberra institution and is a tremendous forum for debate which is usually of a higher standard than what our politicians serve up from time to time.

I’m setting up this account in the name of ClubsACT – no psuedonyms – and anyone who is interested in my posts will know they come from me.

In relation to food safety, I wanted to say a couple of things. Recently, I convened a meeting of the four relevant industry groups (AHA, Chamber of Commerce, Canberra Business Council and ClubsACT) to discuss the issue. All of us support the temporary closure of food businesses that pose a risk to public health. None of us support the mistreatment of Health Protection Service Inspectors and we all want consistency and transparency in how the regulator does their job.

All four organisations signed a letter to the Chief Minister asking for a roundtable to discuss the issues. In the meantime, Chris Peters from the Chamber of Commerce, Gwyn Rees (ClubsACT Policy Manager) and myself met with ACT Health (Peggy Brown, Director General) and Health Protection Service. This was a very productive meeting and we got agreement to a range of measures which will go a long way to improving the levels of information in industry and the community.

There’s obviously more to come on food safety with the debate on Scores on Doors to come. All four industry groups restated their opposition to the introduction of any new regulation until ACT Health and HPS respond to the Auditor-General’s report into food safety which found serious shortcomings in how HPS do their job. We agree with the Auditor-General that HPS should take a more proactive role in educating the industry and working with venues to improve and enhance food safety as opposed to simply focussing on enforcement when standards do slip.

It is important to remember that everyone agrees only a very small proportion of Canberra’s food businesses aren’t making the grade. Compliance levels in the ACT are very very high (at least 87%) and the reputation of Canberra’s restaurant scene is a good one. None of us want that reputation damaged due to an unfortunate tabloid, crusade-like approach to covering food safety related stories.

Hopefully we are now at a point where industry can freely raise legitimate concerns whilst recognising that HPS have a very important job to do on behalf of the entire community and that the relationship between those who regulate and those who are regulated is a positive and constructive one.

Jeff House
CEO, ClubsACT

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31 Responses to
ClubsACT Joins RiotACT, speaks on Food Safety
Flippant 3:30 pm 04 Jul 12

@Maya… hear hear

It is refreshing to see someone on RiotACT who is willing to stand behind their identity and say… Hello Canberra… here are my views, my opinions and this is who I am.

Meanwhile I will quite happily make my comments (sometimes flippantly) behind my pseudonym.

I applaud Jeff for taking this step, a commendable form of transparent engagement and let us all wonder at how many other leaders in our community would be willing to engage in public debate in such a straight forward manner. Not everyone here will agree with the role of licensed clubs as patrick_keogh points out however you have gained a supporter here.

It is encouraging to see a position being taken against the punitive regulatory measures the largest industry in the ACT, continues to heap on business. The pending ‘Score on Doors’ is just another creep in regulation after a host of changes in a few short years. Too name a few… we have seen liquor fee increases, smoking bans, outdoor seating fee increases, trading hour restrictions, complex risk assessment plans, compiling alcohol data (unique to the ACT), a host of penalties from new regulation (to line the coffers) and then on top of that is the never ending paper-burden imposed by the bureaucratic machine turning service providers into administrators.

A ‘modus operandi’ that aims at a continuance of costly regulation on business will not serve to improve anything in the ACT. I am one Canberran who would like to see our City’s vibrancy bloom where regulators work proactively to encourage businesses to develop and to assist in detaching Canberra from its old stigmas.

Finally we call these people Public Servants the irony however is they forget their position exists to service this community and whilst these boring bureaucrats remain servicing their own interest… what hope does Canberra have?

ClubsACT 3:28 pm 04 Jul 12

aussielyn said :

The ACT Health Protection Service is understaffed and only do spot/random checks. Their job is also more difficult because of the lack of knowledge of food hygiene in the non-English speaking catering staff and high staff turnover. The healthies dread the multi-cultural festival because of the volunteers and because it is outdoors and risk prone. People who suffer from food poisoning symptoms should report them so they can act. The current campaign has been on the cards for years and will result in better standards of healthy food and improved food handling.
As most clubs contract out their catering, it is important; they monitor their standards as it could adversely affect their reputation. Club managers should possess thermometers, check fridges and bain-maries, and be aware of potential risks in food handling. Any catering business that is competent should welcome more inspections and compliance enforcement as it will get rid of the bad eggs in the industry.

Does ClubsACT have a problem with transparency?

Thank you for asking a good question. No we don’t. We have never said no to transparency. We are saying that in the interests of transparency, ACT Health should fully respond to the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report of six months ago.

54-11 3:26 pm 04 Jul 12

maya said :

Well done to Jeff for posting openly in this forum, from what I read on this topic there could be a few insiders lurking around posting from within their cushy government offices in health. Some of these people seem to have quite a good inside knowledge of some of these things and post quite quickly after the articles, which makes me think it’s either spin doctors or staff of the ACT departments who like to remain anonymous. They would have to be very careful about not being caught as I would think this is unethical behaviour. Doesn’t the ACT government have a code of conduct or something.

Either way, I love to eat out and it makes me mad when government incompetence is covered up like this. ClubsACT are just asking for the government to action their own Auditor Generals recommendations, I don’t see anything wrong with this. As a family member owing a non-food business in the ACT I can attest to how deficient the ACT government agencies are in so many areas we have dealt with them, I wouldn’t regard the health department as any different judging by what the Auditor has said about them. Seems like some of the posters are not understanding what the debate is about but just posting attacks instead.

Wow, maya, you’ve introduced an unsupportable conspiracy theory, and attacked the man and not the ball.

Surely this is all about food safety, and the health and wellbeing of Canberra consumers? Not a general spray about the ACT government.

ClubsACT 3:23 pm 04 Jul 12

I agree 87% isn’t as high as it should be devils advocate. The figure only means something relative to other states or cities. I guess the point I was trying to make was that there needs to be perspective in the debate about food safety and what’s required to improve it and ensure the public has access to information about food safety. 87% certainly isn’t 100% but it’s also not the 22% that existed in New York or roughly the 50% that existed in Toronto (two cities cited in the KPMG report on food safety). The vast majority of food outlets in Canberra do the right thing. There are a small group that clearly do not and they should feel the full force of the regulator.

aussielyn 3:19 pm 04 Jul 12

The ACT Health Protection Service is understaffed and only do spot/random checks. Their job is also more difficult because of the lack of knowledge of food hygiene in the non-English speaking catering staff and high staff turnover. The healthies dread the multi-cultural festival because of the volunteers and because it is outdoors and risk prone. People who suffer from food poisoning symptoms should report them so they can act. The current campaign has been on the cards for years and will result in better standards of healthy food and improved food handling.
As most clubs contract out their catering, it is important; they monitor their standards as it could adversely affect their reputation. Club managers should possess thermometers, check fridges and bain-maries, and be aware of potential risks in food handling. Any catering business that is competent should welcome more inspections and compliance enforcement as it will get rid of the bad eggs in the industry.

Does ClubsACT have a problem with transparency?

54-11 2:48 pm 04 Jul 12

It is interesting, isn’t it, how when there is at last some openness and transparency about the extent of bad food preparation, the business community suddenly decides to crawl out of the woodwork.

For as many years as I can remember, Canberra consumers have been asking for the fetid lid to be lifted on some fetid parts of the food industry. Until very recently, it was all outs of sight (although too often never out of mind for the victims).

Now Jeff and his friends are saying that it is all unfair; that the public should not have the transparency it now has.

Yes, Jeff, there will be some inconsistencies with the individual inspectors. For some, no doubt, 1 cockroach is too many; for others, maybe it would need a family of cockroaches before conditions are a bridge too far. Yes, it may be subjective at times. But the evidence is very clear – far too many places far well short of required standards, as shown by how quickly they all plead guilty to the charges. The evidence is overwhelming.

No amount of self-interested bleating from the industry can hide the fact that 1) this transparency was well overdue; 2) too many establishments have for too many years got away with (almost) murder; and 3) we will all be the better for shining a light in the dark, dirty, infested recesses of some of our commercial kitchens.

maya 1:59 pm 04 Jul 12

Well done to Jeff for posting openly in this forum, from what I read on this topic there could be a few insiders lurking around posting from within their cushy government offices in health. Some of these people seem to have quite a good inside knowledge of some of these things and post quite quickly after the articles, which makes me think it’s either spin doctors or staff of the ACT departments who like to remain anonymous. They would have to be very careful about not being caught as I would think this is unethical behaviour. Doesn’t the ACT government have a code of conduct or something.

Either way, I love to eat out and it makes me mad when government incompetence is covered up like this. ClubsACT are just asking for the government to action their own Auditor Generals recommendations, I don’t see anything wrong with this. As a family member owing a non-food business in the ACT I can attest to how deficient the ACT government agencies are in so many areas we have dealt with them, I wouldn’t regard the health department as any different judging by what the Auditor has said about them. Seems like some of the posters are not understanding what the debate is about but just posting attacks instead.

devils_advocate 1:50 pm 04 Jul 12

87% doesn’t seem like a high compliance rate.

While I understand you can’t translate this statistic into a probability for any given business: if you said to me each time I went to eat somewhere “on average you have a 13 per cent chance of getting sick after eating here” well that would concern me.

I have no idea whether the probability changes in relation to price point (i.e. I don’t know if I can protect myself by going to more up-market eateries) or in relation to specific types of food (is sashimi more risky?).

And this is coming from someone with a relatively “cast iron” stomach. I’d had to be someone who is susceptible to food poisoning.

BallOfMonkey 1:13 pm 04 Jul 12

ClubsACT said :

Problem gambling is an incredibly complex issue…

JH

What an absolute load of cr@p. You put in place endless rows of machines which are designed to suck money out of people and then try to tell us that this is somehow mitigated by a pittance of that money going back to the community through the clubs. You’re feeding on the more succeptible members of society and try to hide it behind the benefit clubs can bring to the community.

On another note, I’d actually like to thank you for bringing up this issue. Aside from my rant above, you’ve caused me to think about this issue in a little more detail and I can now happily cancel my membership to the various clubs I’m a member of to avoid any form of tacit support to the organisations you represent.

Goddess 11:34 am 04 Jul 12

#3 Zan made a very good point….Food safety should not only cover the cleanliness of kitchens and proper handling of food. It should also cover the personal hygiene of all staff involved. There is no good making them clean their kitchens if they don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, is there?

In addition to staff observing healthy practices I think some customers need to be reminded of safe food handling techniques, particularly in relation to salad bars. Letting a tissue fall out of your sleeve onto the food and returning tissue to same sleeve is not very hygenic.

I witnessed this happening at a club and reported it to staff who immediately replaced the bowl of food. The customer’s main concern was removing the beetroot stain from her white cardigan.

ClubsACT 10:17 am 04 Jul 12

My experience is that people often have entrenched views which are rarely changed by debate and discussion so far from being a PR offensive, this is about engaging in the debate and putting our point of view whichwe are of course entitled to do.

Problem gambling is an incredibly complex issue and won’t be solved on this site. There are a range of comorbidities which are involved when people are addicted to gambling. However, I will state my view that I support measures which create an atmosphere where problem gamblers feel more confident in self-identifying. I also support more effective identification of problem gamblers so they can be excluded from all gambling venues and referred to counselling to overcome their addictions. I also believe the exponential growth of online gambling should receive more attention than it does.

In terms of the issue of live music, I think the dramatic increases in public liability insurance premiums and noise issues resulting from the trend towards inner city living where long-time well established live music venues have been shut down because all of a sudden there’s residential development right next door have had more to do with the decline in live music than clubs. I used to enjoy live music at the Wig n Pen and I guarantee that it wasn’t licensed clubs that stopped it there – it was public liability insurance premiums. But you can go to Edgars in Ainslie or Suburban in Dickson on weekends in the warmer months and be treated to fantastic live music.

In terms of food safety, this is simply about ensuring that HPS respond to the Auditor-General’s report’s recommendations. Moreover, I do agree with the Auditor-General that HPS should spend more time proactively working with venues to improve and maintain food safety as opposed to spending all their time responding to complaints (without of course suggesting that they don’t respond to complaints). And yes, it is about looking at this from a consumer’s perspective. I’ll let the Auditor-General’s words speak for themselves:

“The Health Protection Service has a reactive approach to monitoring non-compliance and in the longer term this may compromise food safety”.

And 54-11, at no stage have we ever suggested that inspectors shouldn’t be doing their job. But we want that job done consistently and fairly. Again, I’ll let the Auditor-General speak for herself:

“Health Protection Service had not developed formal policies and procedures to guide staff in implementing enforcement actions. This contributed to staff adopting different work practices…This is undersirable in a work environment focused on legislative compliance”.

All the quotes are from pages 5-8 of the Auditor-General’s report. I would encourage anyone interested in this debate to read that report.

JH

Elizabethany 9:39 am 04 Jul 12

54-11 said :

I’m a mmber of quite a few clubs and fairly regularly make “voluntary donation”, and eat in many of the clubs and make use of their facilities.

But as a club member, I do not support or condone this campaign by Clubs ACT et al. For far too long, some establishments in Canberra have been putting our health at risk. I have suffered a very bad bout of food poisoning and it is very far from pleasant. The dtails are too graphic to describe!

I fully support what the government is doing. It is all about safety of the public, and I have no doubt that ED and other parts of the health system will be very grateful for the drop-off in people presenting with ill-effects.

These closures are not for “minor breaches”, as one previous RA contributor tried to claim. These closures are for repeated, serious, deliberate and dangerous food storage issues.

Jeff, let the inspectors do their job, for the benefit of us all.

I completely agree with this message, with the added bonus of one of the two times I got food poisoning it was attributed by the powers that be as probably from eating at an ACT club. Since ClubsACT (and other club groups, like ClubsNSW) have become so political, I have decided not to renew my club memberships as they come due. A reasonable proportion of people I know have done the same thing. Maybe you need to actually consider what your members (and the community as a whole) think about your new political career.

Zan 8:59 am 04 Jul 12

Food safety should not only cover the cleanliness of kitchens and proper handling of food. It should also cover the personal hygiene of all staff involved. There is no good making them clean their kitchens if they don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, is there?

54-11 8:48 am 04 Jul 12

I’m a mmber of quite a few clubs and fairly regularly make “voluntary donation”, and eat in many of the clubs and make use of their facilities.

But as a club member, I do not support or condone this campaign by Clubs ACT et al. For far too long, some establishments in Canberra have been putting our health at risk. I have suffered a very bad bout of food poisoning and it is very far from pleasant. The dtails are too graphic to describe!

I fully support what the government is doing. It is all about safety of the public, and I have no doubt that ED and other parts of the health system will be very grateful for the drop-off in people presenting with ill-effects.

These closures are not for “minor breaches”, as one previous RA contributor tried to claim. These closures are for repeated, serious, deliberate and dangerous food storage issues.

Jeff, let the inspectors do their job, for the benefit of us all.

patrick_keogh 8:00 am 04 Jul 12

Jeff, it is interesting that you have decided to open a RiotACT front in the PR offensive on behalf of clubs in the ACT. As I am sure you know there are many participants in this forum who have serious misgivings concerning the role of licensed clubs in our society. Yes every club does some good things but there are numerous problem areas as well.

Clearly first amongst these is problem gambling. Please don’t bother to respond by telling us everything that clubs do to mitigate this, we know. It is clear that these steps are only necessary because clubs are more part of the problem than they are part of the solution. The original intent of clubs (set up for the mutual benefits of members) has been compromised to the extent that many clubs appear to be set up for the members to support the club, not vice versa.

Second is the role that clubs have played in killing off smaller venues. The “lowest common denominator” entertainment that most clubs offer together with the subsidy flowing from the one arm bandits has sucked the life blood out the small pub live music scene that has been IMHO an important part of Australian culture. The reduction in competition in the clubs market has only made this problem worse.

The growth of very large clubs and their market power can be clearly seen in your message above. I don’t ever think about the dynamic of regulation as being about a “relationship”. I don’t have a relationship with the police or the courts. They make and enforce the regulatory environment, I just obey it. Go back to your text above and substitute “traffic safety” and “police” into your text and you will see that it is a complete nonsense. I understand that you get paid to put the best possible spin on what clubs do, and to get the best outcome for the clubs but maybe it is time to step back and think about the food safety issue from the perspective of the consumer and the health system not just you employers.

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