December 14, 2005
The World Today
Reporter: Nance Haxton
KAREN PERCY: The South Australian Government has been accused of not acting quickly enough to recall suspect smallgoods products after a food poisoning outbreak claimed two lives.
Two more people are still recovering.
The Conroys Smallgoods factory in Adelaide has already axed 30 casual jobs, and the future of the 90 people permanent employees is dependent on whether a firm link can be established between Listeria found on meat produced by Conroys and the meat eaten by four hospital patients.
Nance Haxton reports from Adelaide.
NANCE HAXTON: The Conroys Smallgoods factory in inner Adelaide was a hive of activity this morning, with trucks frantically coming in and out of the front entrance.
But rather than delivering thousands of Christmas hams to stores, the trucks are returning pallets of smallgoods.
Conroys Managing Director Pat Conroy says the discovery of Listeria bacteria on factory equipment and in some of its meat products is devastating for the company.
PAT CONROY: Ah, well it’s been a very stressful time, Nance, as you can imagine, but our first thoughts must be for our customers, and we have been focussing to that extent on getting what information we can out to our customers and recalling product that has to come back.
NANCE HAXTON: It’s been a sudden slide in fortune for the company which started more than 50 years ago as a small Adelaide butcher.
The award for Supplier of the Year from the Foodland group still stands proudly on the Conroys front counter.
Mr Conroy says they are hopeful the company can recover from the setback and begin selling its products as early as next week.
How will your company recover from this? Many South Australians and Australians will recall that the Garibaldi food scare, although that was a different food poisoning infection, that company folded within months of that discovery. How will Conroys recover from that?
PAT CONROY: Well I’m very pleased to hear you say that the Garibaldi incidents was quite different, which is factual. On the practical level, we feel that we have the financial resources to get through this problem, but only time will tell.
NANCE HAXTON: However, others are not so sure.
While it occurred 10 years ago, the memories of the Garibaldi food poisoning outbreak are still fresh in the minds of many South Australians.
A four-year-old died and more than 40 people became ill in that outbreak, after eating e coli bacteria contained in mettwurst.
Some victims are still seeking compensation.
There are fears more victims of this food poisoning outbreak could yet be discovered, as Listeria infection takes up to three months to incubate.
John Doherty is the lawyer for the victims of the Garibaldi food poisoning outbreak.
He says while the source of the infection may be different this time around, the State Government has clearly not learned any lessons.
JOHN DOHERTY: In the Garibaldi epidemic we had the government bodies approaching the source first and the community not being notified for quite some time afterwards. It’s the wrong way around. It’s a bit like shutting the door after the horse has bolted. As I understand the situation, with Conroys they were notified on Friday and the community were not notified about this until the Monday. Now, it’s all well to differentiate between Listeria and e coli, but the principle remains the same.
NANCE HAXTON: State Health Minister John Hill has defended the decision not to implement the recall of Conroys products from last Friday, when Listeria bacteria was first suspected.
JOHN HILL: We did everything we possibly could, and I think everything that was done was reasonable.
NANCE HAXTON: In retrospect, though, could the South Australian public have been put at risk over the weekend?
JOHN HILL: As soon as we had the results which indicated there was more or less otogenous in the machinery, we then had sufficient evidence to force a recall. I mean, the law is written in such a way that we have to have reasonable grounds before we can do that, because you’ve got to take into account that, I guess when the law was written people were taking into account the effects that it may have on the business organisation.
NANCE HAXTON: Opposition Health spokesman Robert Brokenshire says the State Government must review its food standards regulations.
ROBERT BROKENSHIRE: There was a new food act put in in 2001, but what this government have failed to do in four years is actually come up with the second stage of requirement from that legislation. So the Government are negligent there, and it’s not good saying oh we’re still looking at some national when other states already have these things in place.
KAREN PERCY: That’s Opposition spokesman in South Australia, Robert Brokenshire.