Several food safety breaches at a supermarket in the centre of Canberra occurred in order to “survive” during the COVID-19 pandemic, a court has heard.
At the time, the Supa IGA Liquor Plus supermarket in East Row, Civic, had been owned and operated by a corporation called Rising Wood Pty Ltd and managed by Javid Osman and another man, court documents say.
In November 2021, public health officers inspected the IGA, but Osman refused them access to the basement food storage area as well as to an area upstairs which, it was later discovered, was being used for processing food.
Due to what the documents say was Osman’s “hostile and belligerent behaviour” during the inspection, the officers eventually called police for assistance.
The health officers found several issues during their inspection. For instance, there was evidence of a significant number of food products for sale beyond their best-before dates.
The premises and equipment were unclean, there were holes in the walls and ceilings and waste had accumulated inside the building.
When closed-circuit television footage from the supermarket was reviewed, an employee was seen rubbing off the best-before dates from soft-drink bottles.
An employee was also seen removing loaves of bread from their original packaging and repacking them into clear, blank packaging. They were then returned for sale.
The health officers seized several items and found no use-by dates on their packaging. These included cheese, dips, gherkins, corn relish and soft-drink. Two containers of sesame paste had best-before dates of April 2018.
On Wednesday (19 July), defence lawyer Peter Bevan of Bevan & Co told the ACT Magistrates Court that Rising Wood Pty Ltd would plead guilty to nine charges.
These included one count of misleading conduct relating to the sale of food, two counts of the handling and sale of unsuitable food and three counts of non-compliance with the food standards code.
Also, 50-year-old Osman pleaded guilty to one count of hindering a territory public official, for which Magistrate James Lawton handed him a conviction and fine of $1000.
When it came to Rising Wood, Mr Bevan told the court that the business had been “pretty hard hit” during the COVID pandemic and it became “a matter of surviving”.
“It was done for the business to survive and not to rip people off and make money,” he said.
He said the supermarket was in the centre of the city and during the pandemic, “no-one’s coming to work, no-one’s buying things”.
He said the store used to have 1500 customers a day, but this dropped to 200 to 300 during COVID. However, the outgoings remained the same.
Mr Bevan asked for the magistrate to accept this as an explanation, not an excuse.
Prosecutor Chamil Wanigaratne said when health standards were not complied with, the flow-on effects to the broader community were concerning as they could lead to health and safety issues for consumers.
He also said it was difficult to detect offences like these, as they only came to light after an inspection. Not many matters had come before the courts, he said.
Magistrate Lawton will hand down his sentence for Rising Wood Pty Ltd on 10 August.