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.

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