Of mice and mould: Grill’d hires food auditor as new issues emerge
Grill’d, one of the country’s most profitable hamburger chains, has hired a global food auditor to review the food safety and work practices at its 137 restaurants in the wake of a growing food safety and worker exploitation scandal.
The appointment of SAI Global follows an investigation by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, which showed Grill’d has had long standing food safety and cleanliness issues in some of its restaurants in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia and Queensland.
Restaurant managers have been told to add extra hours to each shift for “deep cleaning” of restaurants ahead of SAI Global conducting its food safety review.
The investigation also found workers were not getting properly trained or taught about food safety despite being “encouraged” to do government-subsidised, low-paid traineeships. A survey of workers revealed that 92 per cent believed the traineeship was a waste of time.
Since the stories broke almost 6000 Australians have signed a petition organised by Grill’d worker Patrick Stephenson for the company to stop using traineeships to pay lower wages.
New revelations are that a number of Grill’d restaurants in Melbourne have had food safety non-compliance issues that have been notified to local councils. Restaurant locations include Highpoint, which had pest issues, Malvern, which had cleanliness issues and Windsor, which had cleanliness issues, pests and problems with the location of the bins. At Crows Nest in Sydney’s north shore, Grill’d received a final warning from the council in the past year. It has since rectified the issue.
This is on top of a series of internal audit reports of company-owned Grill’d restaurants dating back to 2017 which show one in 10 of its 105 company-owned restaurants had food safety non-compliance issues. The other 32 Grill’d restaurants are owned by franchisees.
The chain, which opened its first restaurant in 2004 and now employs more than 4000 workers, makes an estimated profit of $45 million a year.
An internal email written by the national operations manager on December 8 said that eight restaurants in Victoria had “issues due to age, asset and/or pest proofing in addition to cleaning, and therefore remain a concern”. Restaurants listed in Victoria included Burwood, Southern Cross, Highpoint, Degraves Street, Southgate, Little Bourke Street, Carlton and Malvern.
The email did not comment on whether restaurants in other states have had issues with health authorities or non-compliance with their own internal audits. Leaked internal audit reports indicate one in 10 company-owned restaurants had non compliance issues.
Internal documents, photos and videos obtained by The Age and The Herald reveal some restaurants in NSW, Perth and Queensland have hygiene and cleanliness issues.
Photos and videos of restaurants show a mouse tail hanging from a vent in one Victorian restaurant. A video of a baby rat in another restaurant was taken in March. Other evidence includes photos of mould on trays used to cook burgers, rubbish dumped in storage areas, buns stored on trays on the floor next to a door with flies and photos demonstrating an overall lack of hygiene and cleanliness.
“For these restaurants we need to focus our mind and request help from support office where needed promptly; i.e. today or tomorrow,” the December email said.
Documents show that in October 2018 Grill’d on Chapel Street, Windsor, received an official inspection notice by Stonnington Council’s environmental health unit that gave it an overall “major non-compliance” result.
A rat finds its way around a Grill’d store
The food and safety report found mice droppings on the shelves next to the fryers and also on the counter. “This business has not had effective cleaning systems in place,” the report said. “Every year similar non-compliances are noted. Infringement notices may be issued if this continues.”
Stonnington Council refused to answer questions about Grill’d, including how many years it the restaurant had been non-compliant.
Grill’d said the Windsor restaurant was refurbished in 2019. It said there had been no issues with the council since the refurbishment. “All of our restaurants have eight preventative visits per year by Rentokill to undertake pest control,” it said in a statement.
In a presentation to restaurant managers on Thursday, Grill’d management said: “We are genuinely concerned by the examples given in these news articles, and as we have said from the outset, any suggestion that we have fallen short of our high standards is something that we at Grill’d take very seriously.”
In Queensland, a confidential email sent on November 13 to Grill’d Bulimba reported that food containers had food grime still in bowls and containers that had been put away. A food safety issue was deemed out of the restaurant’s control because the “testo probe” – which measures temperatures of meat and chicken – was being fixed. The reviewer also “stated he did not sight anyone wash their hands during his visit”.
In a statement Grill’d said every restaurant has a back-up plan when their testo probe wasn’t available. It said Bulimba used an infrared thermometer.
Another internal document revealed that Grill’d Frankston in Victoria had been caught pre-filling some food safety records. The document dated November 18 said “pre-filling records is an example of falsification as we are documenting an action that has not occurred yet.” It said “we served to customers without ID,” and added that “there was a lack of understanding to why we do what we do in regards to food safety.” The review followed customer complaints at finding long, hard pieces of plastic in the BBQ brisket burgers.
In a statement the company said “no records were falsified; our own systems detected where a new employee was applying processes from their previous employer.” It said it had provided training and coaching for the individual and team.
Issues of safety have been raised by workers. A few months ago at Camp Hill in Queensland a young woman suffered facial burns when a hose she was using to filter hot cooking oil splashed on her. Grill’d said in a statement it was an isolated incident and every restaurant in the country was checked within 24 hours.
On November 12 the fire brigade was called to Grill’d Canberra Centre when a catch tray of a grill caught fire and triggered a fire alarm. In a statement Grill’d said the restaurant reopened the same day and it called in an independent technician to inspect the grill.
In Sydney’s Chatswood there have been a series of recent incidents including a worker receiving an electric shock, a worker hit on the head after a wooden panel fell from the ceiling and an incident where the exhaust system broke down for more than three days, leaving the restaurant filled with smoke. The restaurant was closed to customers but not the workers who did takeaway orders.
In a statement, Grill’d said steps were taken the same day to repair and fix the cause of the issues. “The health and safety of our staff was our top priority.”
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