Salmonella still a risk in Victoria according to investigation.

Front page lead article - The Age Newspaper (Victoria,Australia) 4.5.1997

According to "The Age" Newspaper (Victoria, Australia 4th May 1997), Victorians are eating meat produced by several shoddy, unhygienic and poorly supervised abattoirs, processors and smallgoods manufacturers, according to senior industry figures and meat inspectors.

One of the largest processors in the state is taking expired and returned meat from retailers, then reprocessing, repackaging and reselling it in a major breach of health regulations, according to a company inspector.

The chairman of the Victorian Meat Authority, Mr John Watson, said he did not deny there were problem areas, but believed quality control systems were much better since self-regulation was introduced in July 1994.

An investigation by "The Sunday Age" has uncovered a series of problems within the [meat] industry including:

*Since processors began employing their own safety inspectors, some have been pressured not to report major safety breaches.

*Companies are often warned in advance if their meatworks are going to be independently audited.

*Federal Government Documents predicted major health risks if the Victorian deregulation went ahead.

*A CSIRO study shows much higher contamination, including salmonella, of domestic meat compared to meat produced for the export market.

*People identified and convicted of meat substitution and criticised by a royal commission into the industry in the 1980's have re-emerged as operators.

**Mutton is being regularly substituted for lamb.

Since self regulation was introduced by the State Government, the industry has been controlled by the Victorian Meat Authority. It employs five inspectors, assisted by another six staff from a private auditing firm to oversee 654 licensed processing premises and more than 200 transport vehicles.

One of these inspectors told "The Age" :We simply have to rely on well trained operatives doing the right thing. It's not the system. How do you control so many loose cannons?

The Managing Director of one of Victoria's largest meatworks, Mr Castricum said "Total self-regulation of the meat industry is very dangerous I think." He said "There are still people in Victoria letting the side down."

One supermarket was said to have sent back substandard meat on a monthly basis.

One meat inspector claimed "I'm seeing unsafe things all the time, things that go past the critical control point, bile and spillage from the intestines, splitting of carcases. I've seen splitting of diseased animals when they have abcesses in the lungs, in the liver, on the backbone and they split them with no sterilisation, spray them and all that does is spread the bacteria out of the abcess."

"You should actually stop production when you have either a risk of contamination from some pathalogical condition or spillage of intestinal contents. That's just not happening."

"Sick, injured or dying animals were being slaughtered without veterinary supervision, potentially creating a major health risk," the inspector said.

"The moment we talk about these dangers we get a reaction of anger or aggression from management," the inspector said. "The prime objective is to keep production flowing, not safety."

"The public should be desperately worried, and if they knew what we knew, they would be," he said.

An unpublished copy of the CSIRO health study - part funded by the meat industry- contains data indicating that there were differences in the level of [salmonella] contamination of export and domestic meats.

A table, authenticated by the author of the report, the CSIRO program manager for food safety, Mr Barry Shay, states that salmonella was found in 2.24 per cent of domestic boneless beef meat samples and in .38 per cent of export samples.

Mr Shay said the bacterial count was simply an indicator of poor hygiene and likely spoilage rather than safety. He said the salmonella findings were based on too small a sample to be meaningful.

The secretary of the Meatworkers Union, Mr Wally Curran, said the auditing system was a joke, and their should be spot inspections of meatworks.

One inspector employed at a processing plant supplying packaged meat products said it regularly recycled expired and returned products.

"They take the product back from the supermarkets, they heat it rapidly, cool it, vacuum pack it, and its resold as pressed meat, original product" he said.

NB According to this article Meat processors often knew two days before hand of an impending inspection.