14th September 2021

The saga of Slug-gate was further ventilated at the most recent hearings of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the affair.

Due to time constraints imposed on examining witnesses, by the nature of these inquiries, means evidence to the public is limited. Without the evidence being adequately tested, an observer could well draw incorrect assumptions.

Examples presented by the Health Department and the City of Greater Dandenong Officers that needed scrutiny but failed to attract adequate attention were evident.

The evidence of genome sequencing of listeria found in a deceased patient who allegedly ate food supplied by ICooks and a link to listeria located in the ICooks facility gave the impression the facility was the problem.

The listeria, however, was found in Corned Beef and Ham at the facility. Neither products were produced by ICooks but bought in from national suppliers. This crucial evidence was omitted.

Evidence was given that this connection to the patient’s death was significant in issuing the Closure Order that ended the ICooks Business.

We know that this information was not conclusive and was not fully available to the CHO until days after the Order was served.

So how the issue of listeria played a significant role in the decision to close ICooks, is at best oblique, with the timelines critical to relevance omitted.

Omitted also from the evidence was that the listeria sample located at ICooks was 90% below the Regulated level for this pathogen to be considered a health problem. Under food standards legislation, the ICook sample levels are deemed to be safe for human consumption. Another critical omission.

The evidence instead inferred using selective adjectives that the patient and the factory sample were a close match or nearly the same. For professional witnesses to emphasise words in oral presentations to create a false narrative was inexcusable.

Health Department and Greater Dandenong Council witnesses should have given evidence that was fair and frank but was instead selective and deceptive.

Those witnesses had a Doherty Institute analysis that stated clearly that the match was probable, not the same, as the evidence implied. There is no such thing as a genetic fingerprint; the use of this term was a scientific fraud.

There was compelling evidence before the inquiry from an independent Environmental Health Inspector that investigated the listeria issue and found the patient who died never consumed any foods from ICooks.

During the inspection of ICooks by the Greater Dandenong Council, there was a high probability that the factory may have been contaminated by officials undertaking the inspection.

There is video footage showing the Heath Inspectors who obtained these samples routinely contaminating the site during their inspection, but the witnesses were not examined on this critical point.

Whether this contamination was deliberate, or incompetence will ultimately be tested in court.

Also of significance, a substantial quantity of evidence was presented from bureaucrats portraying that the Health Department Closure Order’s decisions, were distinct and independent from the Inspections conducted by local bureaucrats that resulted in the ninety-six charges against ICooks and later withdrawn.

This perception was debunked entirely, not by opposing evidence but from one of the local inspectors letting slip towards the end of her testimony that her superior was in constant contact with the Health Department during the inspection. An attempt to cover a conspiracy, blown.

There were many other anomalies or attempted manipulations of the evidence around the listeria issue.

  • ICooks produced and delivered 120,000 meals, and in excess of 15,000 Salads and sandwiches to the most vulnerable in the community between when samples were taken on 01/02/2019, the elderly patient died (04/02/2019), and the factory was closed 22/02/2019. No other listeria (a reportable disease) was recorded anywhere in the food chains linked to ICooks or any of their suppliers. There were four other cases with a similar Genome sequence in WA and QLD;
  • ICook Foods doesn’t sell to these States but these incidents were never investigated. This is critical as the listeria found elsewhere could have entered the hospital via any one of the other six food suppliers who service Knox Private Hospital.
  • The patient arrived at Knox Private Hospital displaying listeria symptoms with that relevance being incorrectly dismissed by Health Officials based on the incubation period of the disease. That incubation period was completely erroneous. The patient was not in the incubation period when she presented at Knox Hospital; she was already symptomatic
  • That a Knox Hospital patient died from eating ICooks Foods laced with listeria was emphasised by some witnesses as an absolute. This is again erroneous. The patient died, with listeria, not from it, and no link was ever identified between the sandwiches the patient allegedly consumed and those ICooks supplied to the Hospital. Suspecting or believing is in the realm of gossip unless substantive confirmation is obtained
  • Unfortunately, the patient had severe heart problems and was probably in the end-of-life phase at 89 years of age.
  • Of significance, none of the other food suppliers in the chain of the alleged sandwiches was tested or interviewed by officials.
  • Six other suppliers had provided to the Knox Hospital Kitchen and the Hudson’s Coffee Shop that provides cakes and sandwiches to patients and staff on-site but no investigation of these possible sources of listeria were investigated: why not? What happened to the abundance of caution so regularly proffered by Health Officials?
  • Of greatest significance, with Departmental witnesses emphasising that a listeria outbreak was averted. There was no plausible explanation given whether ICooks was the source and how nobody else who consumed the 135,000 meals, salads, and sandwiches supplied to the vulnerable in that period displayed listeria.
  • That the hospital kitchen was never inspected or examined concerning this event is significant as it goes to the crux of this issue.
  • Evidence from an independent Environmental Health Officer tasked by the Health Department to investigate the listeria issue gave compelling and emphatic evidence that the patient was on a soft food diet prepared in-house by the Hospital and not from external suppliers. His findings were provided to the Health Department; however, the Closure Order was issued despite this evidence.
  • The Deputy Chief Health Officer in an email subsequent to the closure advised the Chief Health Officer and others, that there were two food production lines at ICooks and one line that food was pasteurised through could re-open but that advice was apparently ignored.
  • The inquiry was repeatedly told that no one issue caused the formation of the decision by the Chief Health Officer to issue the closure order. The inquiry was never told what these ‘issues’ were.
  • A picture was painted in evidence that ICooks lacked qualified food safety and hygiene staff for a facility of this type. Evidence to highlight this deficiency was derived from casual conversations with ICooks staff during inspections once ICook were closed. There was no food handling to observe, and the evidence was clearly designed to create a false impression.
  • The health investigators knew that ICooks had on staff, a person qualified at the same level as the auditors used in the industry. The skills and training exceed that of a local Environmental Health Officer and having a person on staff at that level well exceeds any statutory or regulatory requirements for this type of business.

Oral evidence should have been fair and impartial from public service officers. Instead, it was biased in favour of a predetermined position. Any evidence that did not support their hypothesis was overlooked or deliberately manipulated to deflect that ICooks was targeted which when looking at the totality of the evidence they clearly were.

Alleged attempts by Environmental Health Officers to contaminate the factory are astounding given the breadth of video footage covering the Inspectors’ actions. Although they must be aware that they were under surveillance, as is every other person on the premises at ICooks, as part of their food security protocols, they chose to give evidence contrary to the vision.

And then there is the Slug. A nocturnal mollusc that is sensitive to chlorine (the floor cleaning product) swanning around the factory floor in a high traffic area forty-six meters away from the closest leafy vegetables identified initially by Inspectors as the access for the slug.

By the time the evidence was presented the route of the slug was changed to plastic bins a few meters away from the find.

The Variety of Slug was Limas Maximus. This Slug does not eat leafy vegetables; it only consumes rotting matter and is found in compost bins; it would not have come in with fresh produce; it had to have been brought in.

That it was planted was vehemently denied by bureaucrats. Still, there was equally strong evidence that the picture of the Slug used in the prosecution of ICooks had been photo-shopped to remove an incriminating piece of tissue. In that process the colour of the factory floor changed from grey to green.

Evidence that bureaucrats were observed altering the image of the slug photo was compelling from independent witnesses. However, the doctoring was explained away by an admission that they were editing body camera footage removing personal material.

That admission creates another problem. All the footage on a body camera is evidence, and any tampering is arguably Perverting the Course of Justice a serious criminal offence. A court order is required to remove anything from the recorded images.

The working hypothesis is that the targeting of ICooks was not motivated by health concerns but an attempt to remove the last competitor to the Local Government owned and run Community Chef, a company beset by financial woes.

ICooks was deliberately targeted by the Health Department and the City of Greater Dandenong. The evidence of this is overwhelming.

The sin of ICooks would appear to be being a commercial success when the competitor company, Community Chef, owned by the City of Greater Dandenong and fifteen other municipal councils, funded to the tune of millions with our money by the Councils and the Health Department, continued to fail even with preferred supplier status.

It is worthy of note that most commercial competition to Community Chef had been decimated with kitchens similar to ICooks supplying the same market closed putting many workers out of a job because of market manipulation by Community Chef, ICooks was the last impediment to total domination of the market.

Trumpeted at its inception as a GFC job building initiative, the net effect on employment was a substantial loss. Still, it moved the employment to Melbourne western suburbs, perhaps that was the plan all along.

In addition, ICooks had developed the world-leading technology that was patented to produce Texture Modified food. Technology that was valued in the millions of dollars and Community Chef were unable to replicate.

As a sole supplier and with this technology, Community Chef could charge what they wanted and reap millions in international technology sales.

This whole saga is about the money – greed the motivator.

The failure of the Community Chef experiment that had already cost taxpayers over $20m, cost Taxpayers a further $6m to bail out as it was closed and taken over by Western Health.

Why the Community Chef business was not placed on the open market to reduce taxpayers’ exposure is a question somebody must answer; that somebody is the current Health Minister.

This maneuver reeks of cover-up because the anomalies and any criminal behaviours would be exposed if Community Chef had been sold. By keeping the resource in-house allows for the cover-up to continue and be hidden within the giant Health Department bureaucracy and budgets.

When this whole saga is settled financially, the actual cost could well exceed $100m, and for what?

When all is said and done, apart from the rivers of gold flowing out of Community Chef this may also have been about servicing a few bureaucrats’ egos, and crime was not too high a price to pay to cover it up.

There must be people held to account, and perpetrators given lengthy jail terms not just as a penalty but to dissuade other bureaucrats from similar fraud on the taxpayer.

If this does not happen soon, a Royal Commission is the next step, and we are advised that the markers exist for that to happen. From what we know, there are some very embarrassing facts that will be exposed.

It was inserting in evidence before the inquiry by a former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos that a Royal Commission was warranted.

Evidence from Mikakos at a Royal Commission would be riveting.

Slug-Gate is a classic example of why we need the Community Advocacy Alliance’s recommended Recall Legislation, the communities’ weapon against government or bureaucratic corruption.

To register your further support for the Recall Petition, go to caainc.org.au and scroll down to the prompts.