‘How the hell were we supposed to know’ Canberra restaurant not guilty of 2013 Salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 160

Australia still has an egg problem.

It’s not helped by restaurants and inspectors looking the other way because they allegedly know raw eggs are better in mayo or aioli.

garlic_aioliThis is the problem with UK bureaucrats say cook things until piping hot when any scientist knows a combination of temperature and time and measured using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer is the only way to ensure safety.

Same for Australian bureau-types, who are the first to say, we don’t have the kind of Salmonella that can get into eggs,like that nasty North America, but don’t use dirty or cracked ones.

Last I looked, Salmonella was a microorganism, that needs to be seen with the help of a microscope, so dirt is a poor, subjective measurement.

The other aspect is that government regulations are a minimal standard. Any company providing food should go far above the bare necessities of government.

The Pinto automobile, which had a tendency to explode when hit from behind, also met government standards.

In May, 2013, at least 162 people who went out for a Mother’s Day meal at the Copa Brazilian in Canberra, Australia, were sickened with Salmonella.

Featured on the menu was a potato salad with a raw egg aioli in a $45 all-you-can eat deal.

An ACT Health investigation traced the raw eggs to a Victorian supplier.

The Copa was eventually closed and sold in 2014.

But a court case was on-going, and as reported by Alexandra Back of the Canberra Times, the Copa, owned by, Zeffirelli Pizza Restaurant Pty Ltd, was found not guilty today of serving unsafe food.

The Copa team argued they believed the food was safe to eat.

copa.canberraDefence lawyer Tim Sharman told the court the owners held a positive and reasonable belief the eggs were safe. He said the eggs came from a primary industry and chain of suppliers that was regulated, and the owner’s were entitled to rely on that regulation.

He said the possibility of a “bad egg” was beyond the owners’ control.

The court heard evidence how a crack in the shell invisible to the eye would allow salmonella to develop inside, but not be seen or smelled.

Further, at the time, the ACT had no guidelines or rules governing how to handle raw egg products, unlike other jurisdictions, Mr Sharman said.

The court was told staff were “disturbed” to hear of the outbreak.

But this was a business, and food poisoning was a risk restaurateurs should be aware of, prosecutor Michael Reardon told the court.

And there was a safer alternative in pasteurised egg products, he said, giving the owners ability to control for the risk of salmonella.

Cameron Moffat, an epidemiologist who at the time was with the ACT Health Service, said the use of products such as raw egg mayonnaise in restaurants was “in vogue”, and causing some problems.

Radomir Krsteski, manager of the microbiology unit at ACT Health, also gave evidence at the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday.

He said pasteurisation – a process of heating the egg products – was the safest way to ensure an egg would be free of salmonella.

He also explained how a “bad egg” with a hairline crack and kept in conditions favourable to the bacteria, could become contaminated with salmonella without someone’s knowledge.

Maybe there’ some Salmonella-night-vision goggles I don’t know about. But do restaurant owners really want to make people sick, and do they really want to lose their business?

A selection of egg-related outbreaks in Australia can be found here.