By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A Greater Dandenong environmental health officer has denied planting a slug on the floor of I Cook Foods’ factory days before it was shut down by health authorities.
“No, I did not,” Elizabeth Garlick told a Parliamentary inquiry into the Dandenong South business’s closure for more than a month after being linked to a listeriosis scare.
“I didn’t really touch it.
“I observed it.”
The slug comprised four of the 96 charges laid by the council and later withdrawn at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court in October.
On 22 February 2019, I Cook Foods was closed by the Department of Health and Human Services over an alleged link to a listeria-related death of an elderly hospital patient.
Director Ian Cook says the closure of the 33-year-old company part of a “deliberate, targeted, commercial, political and devastating” plan.
He described Ms Garlick hunched down in a corner for 17 seconds before declaring she’d found the slug.
At the Upper House inquiry on 24 June, Ms Garlick said she took photos of the slug and surrounding “debris” – some of which I Cook Foods claims was tissue paper from Ms Garlick’s pocket.
She didn’t wear a body camera at the time because it was a “routine inspection”, Ms Garlick told the hearing. The camera was only worn if there’s “safety” concerns, she said.
She wore a body camera on her next visit to the factory after learning that the patient linked to listeria had died.
She learnt this on returning from the slug discovery later on 18 February, she told the hearing. This was two weeks after the patient died.
The slug wasn’t taken into evidence, Ms Garlick said. She didn’t know the species – one that the Cooks’ slug expert says doesn’t live in the area.
Ian Cook had told the inquiry it was improbable the nocturnal creature slithered across an ozone-sterilised floor from outside on a summer’s day.
It had not even left a detectable silver trail, and had escaped the notice of his contracted pest controller the day before.
Ms Garlick told the hearing that an I Cook Foods manager told her the pest controller didn’t specifically target slugs.
During the incident, Ms Garlick looked for where the slug could have come from, she told the hearing.
She noticed a gap under the nearby personnel door. She investigated the other side of the door, finding an accumulation of items and equipment, she said.
Leanne Johnson, the council’s public health co-ordinator, testified that she’d never found a slug in a food premises or kitchen.
Chief executive John Bennie said an independent audit of the council health team’s actions found no issues “of note”.