Even fancy restaurants need to refrigerate sauces — cause toxins can kill

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 81-year-old retiree William Hodgins died just 12 hours after dining with his wife, Audrey, at the upmarket Tables restaurant in Pymble on Friday, January 12 last year (right, pic from Sydney Morning Herald).

Inspector Dean Lindley of Hornsby police told Westmead Coroners Court yesterday that an investigation by the NSW Food Authority discovered Bacillus cereus in an asparagus cream sauce served to Hodgins and 14 other customers that night who had ordered the fish of the day, snapper.

It is alleged the sauce was up to 48 hours old when it was served to him.

Inspector Lindley said he was contacted by food inspector, Bryan Biffin, who said he had taken a sample of cream asparagus sauce he had found in the restaurant after police left. It had been served with the fish of the day.

"The sauce had subsequently been analysed by the Division of Analytical Laboratories and had been found to contain the pathogen Bacillus cereus at a level of 9.8 million parts … Mr Biffin informed me that the toxic level of this pathogen is 1 million parts … Biffin further stated that in his experience this pathogen thrives in an environment where the food is heated and cooled over a period of time. During the course of the investigation I came to the opinion that the deceased William Hodgins had eaten the asparagus sauce. The sauce at the time of consumption was contaminated by the pathogen Bacillus cereus after having been repeatedly subjected to temperature abuse in that it was heated and cooled a number of times over 48 hours by restaurant staff."

The restaurant co-owner and principal chef Kim de Laive told the court he had been holidaying on the South Coast that day and that his fellow chef, Douglas Gunn, had prepared the sauce dishes, including the cream asparagus, the night before for use that Friday.

He said it was the restaurant’s practice to dispose of asparagus sauce if it was exposed to room temperature for more than four hours, and was unaware that the Australian food standards required it to be disposed after two hours. Mr de Laive said he could only assume that one of the apprentices had put the sauce back into the fridge after its use earlier in the day and it had been taken out again that night but he had not asked any of the apprentices about it.

Way to blame the underlings, chef, especially since you apparently didn’t know the basics.

When the restaurant’s co-owner, Daniel Brukark, entered the witness box counsel for the Food Authority counsel, Patrick Saidi, revealed the authority was prosecuting Mr Brukark’s company, Dan Brook Investments, for failing to place labels with dates on its sauce containers, an offence which carries a two-year prison term if a director or chef is convicted.

3 thoughts on “Even fancy restaurants need to refrigerate sauces — cause toxins can kill

  1. Did you take even one moment to look at the actual facts before writing scathing and untrue comments about Tables? Did you know that the ‘sample’ of the asparagus sauce was actually taken home by Detective Dean Lindlay – put in his fridge for the weekend – and then submitted for testing?

  2. The Asparagus sauce was made at 5 pm on the 11th of January and refridgerated shortly thereafter.15 people consumed the same dish on the same night and only Mr hodgins was taken ill.Although several tests were done on his stomach contents and dna .. no trace of the bacteria was found.The sample was taken from Tables on what was arguably the hottest day of the summer ( 40 odd degrees from my recollection ) and driven around first to the Food Authority headquarters ( which were closed) and then to the home of Mr Brian Biffin where they were kept from Saturday afternoon untilMonday morning in the family domestic refrigerator There is some confusion over whether the car fridge of Mr Biffin was on when the sample was placed in it and considering the ambient temperature combined with the heat of a car left in the sun for hours we may never know the effect this had on the small sample taken.Tables Management and staff are devistated by the death of Mr Hodgins and our sympathies go out to his widow and family. Little comfort i am sure but not a day goes by without us revisiting this tragedy and its effects

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