GMI Food Wholesalers Pty Ltd, trading as Australia Poultry and Food Wholesalers, pleaded guilty to 26 charges under the New South Wales Food Act 2003 relating to the production, handling, and sale of unsafe food.
The company was fined A$236,000 (€180,000) plus legal costs by a local court in New South Wales, Australia – the largest fine of its type in the area.
The contaminated pre-cooked chicken, which was used in sandwich wraps supplied on Virgin Blue flights, led to a listeriosis outbreak which affected 29 passengers
Two pregnant women, who became infected after eating the wrap, gave birth prematurely.
Food safety authorities in New South Wales have applauded the decision “given the scope and seriousness of the charges brought against the company.”
New South Wales Food Authority CEO Alan Coutts said: “The consequences of the incident have been serious for a number of people and this is never acceptable.”
“NSW consumers have every right to expect that the food they buy is safe and that companies who have sold food that has made people ill are prosecuted.”
FoodProductionDaily.com reported on the outbreak, which took place between December 2008 and June 2009, when it was originally traced to the company using DNA techniques to identify the exact bacteria strains.
“The bacterial ‘DNA fingerprint’ of the strain of Listeria monocytogenes that were found in the chicken was linked specifically to the laboratory confirmed cases identified,” added Coutts.
“This was the first time that this type of bacterial DNA evidence was used in an Australian case of this kind.”
Listeriosis is an illness caused by consuming food contaminated Listeria monocytogenes bacterium. The resulting illness, which can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, is potentially fatal.
A recent listeriosis outbreak in the US, which was traced back to listeria-contaminated Jensen Farms cantaloupes, has resulted in 29 deaths to date, and a further 139 cases of infection across 28 states.