Victoria’s chief health officer has stood by his decision to close a suburban catering business, despite allegations he ‘misled’ a parliamentary probe into it.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton has stood by his decision to close suburban catering business I Cook Foods, despite allegations from its founder he “misled” a parliamentary probe into its closure.
The Victorian parliament reopened the inquiry after fresh claims were raised alleging DHHS officials did not have adequate evidence to close I Cook Foods, and that Dandenong Council officers working on the case doctored evidence as part of a conspiracy to shut down the Dandenong business.
I Cook Foods was closed in 2019 after an elderly woman died in Knox Private hospital, which the caterer supplied, with listeriosis suspected as a contributing factor in her death.
Professor Sutton signed the closure order in 2019, connecting the woman’s death to sandwiches provided by I Cook Foods.
Fronting the inquiry on Thursday, Professor Sutton stood by his decision to close the business and said there were serious food health and safety issues identified at the premises.
He told the inquiry there was a genetic match between listeria found in the deceased woman and the food at I Cook Foods.
“These were things that satisfied me in the closure order,” Professor Sutton said.
“Despite having really awful consequences for the business and all the individuals that were employed, it was the right thing to do to protect potentially thousands upon thousands of people from being exposed to a deadly illness.”
It comes a week after Knox Council environmental health officer Ray Christy, who was sent to investigate the case, told the inquiry he was convinced the patient did not eat sandwiches prepared by I Cook Foods.
Mr Christy told the inquiry the food history of the patient had been destroyed, and the lack of evidence made it impossible to prove the woman had eaten food from the company despite the Department of Health shutting down the business over fears of a link.
He said six caterers had supplied food to the hospital kitchen, but only one was investigated, and sent those findings to the Health Department.
Professor Sutton said, had they received the emails earlier, it would not have changed anything.
“These emails postdate the making of the closure order, and were therefore clearly not something I could have taken into account,” he said.
“Secondly, even if these emails had been brought to my attention at the time or shortly thereafter, they would not have changed by decision to issue the closure order.
“There was an immediate risk to public health arising from food produced by I Cook Foods.”
Committee member and Liberal MP Craig Ondarchie questioned why the department did not investigate the other other caterers or other food sources.
“So you think not investigating those other companies, not checking out with other food sources, you’re convinced you got it right,” Mr Ondarchie said.
“I am,” Professor Sutton replied.
“I accept that there is no single piece of evidence that is definitive, (but) the sampling that was done, that identified a unique genetic fingerprint across foods that was highly related to that of the case, foods that were epidemiologically linked to I Cook Foods.
“These are things that satisfy me.”