By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Greater Dandenong Council has sensationally dropped all 96 food safety charges levelled against commercial catering company iCook Foods.
The 30-year-old Dandenong South business is now believed to be pursuing a lawsuit of at least $26 million against the council and the Department of Health and Human Services.
iCook Foods director Ian Cook claims the firm was wrongfully ruined by authorities after being shut down and blamed for the listeria-related death of an elderly hospital patient in February.
At a short hearing at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 3 October, City of Greater Dandenong’s barrister withdrew all charges against the company and Mr Cook.
A defence lawyer in turn withdrew Mr Cook’s list of subpoenas against the council.
Among the dropped charges was an allegation that iCook Foods provided “unsuitable” vegetable satay and peanut garnish to Whitehorse Council’s meals on wheels service.
It had been alleged that the food returned a positive test result for Listeria bacteria.
Another withdrawn allegation was that a live slug was observed in the food preparation area.
Outside the courtroom, a jubilant Mr Cook shook hands with supporters. He embraced his son and general manager Ben Cook as they walked from the building.
He declined to comment.
Leisha Hodges, an iCook Foods employee for 15 years, watched on from the court gallery.
“I burst into tears and I started shaking.
“I thought that for all that time, the past six months of hard work trying to fight them and they just dropped (the case).
“Council needs to pay. They’ve ruined a company that’s been going for 30 years.”
Greater Dandenong Council acting chief executive Jody Bosman said “both parties have agreed to go forward on a mutually non-disparaging basis”.
The company had “invested in bringing their premises into compliance with the Food Act”, Mr Bosman said.
“After discussion between the two parties and noting their compliance, Council will not be proceeding with the prosecution of this matter under the Food Act.”
Recently, a whistle-blower and former Greater Dandenong health inspector Kim Rogerson has claimed that she was pressured to fabricate evidence against iCook Foods.
The council said it had referred the matter to IBAC, which in turn referred the matter to the Victorian Ombudsman for an initial review.
“Following that review the Ombudsman has determined that no further investigation is warranted.”
Ms Rogerson has filed an appeal against the Ombudsman’s assessment, alleging a “number of errors” in the investigation.