Three staff at a Dunedin Pizza Hut have quit to protest the actions of the franchise owner, who they allege served expired food, ignored dates of seafood and chicken and refused to fix equipment. Restaurant Brands has said that it is aware of the allegations and was treating them as a “matter of urgency,” while MPI is also investigating, although the franchise owner has denied any such claims.
One worker, who had worked at the branch for seven years, quit just under a month ago after what she said were “disgusting” moves by the owner. Naveen Maholtra took over both Dunedin Pizza Hut franchises at the end of last year and since then worker Hayley Bevin claimed that hygiene and the treatment of staff kept getting worse.
Bevin claimed that best-before date stickers were replaced with new stickers with extended dates on items such as chicken and seafood. Staff were also allegedly instructed to use expired dough – dough which had been made in a mixer that was leaking engine oil into the food, which the owner allegedly refused to fix.
However, the thing which finally caused Bevin to quit was the retrieval of expired brownies from a skip, which were allegedly put back in order to be sold to customers.
“I came back on Monday and they were in the chiller,” Bevin said. “I knew it was the same packet, because I took a photo of it before I left.”
Upon resigning, Bevin and two other employees met with the Pizza Hut are manager to share their concerns. They were assured that the issue would be dealt with but having heard nothing for two weeks, Bevin decided to go public.
“I don’t want my friends to buy from there and get sick,” she explained. “It’s like they’re trying to protect the brand.”
Another worker, who has also quit, said that she was instructed to put a new expiry date on a bag of chicken wings, and was also told to re-freeze a container of partially thawed shrimp. She was also allegedly given a warning for arguing against using capsicum on a pizza that had fallen on the floor.
Malhotra denied the allegations and said that the staff left because of “roster problems.” He refused to comment further and referred questions to the Restaurant Brands head office.
Restaurant Brands marketing GM Geraldine Oldham said that the company was aware of the issues, and that the “quality assurance team are working through them as a matter of urgency with the franchise owners of these stores.”
The two restaurants are registered through MPI rather than the local council. A spokesperson for the ministry said that an investigation was underway.
Coincidentally, the allegations have emerged on the same day the businesses are required to register under the Food Safety Act 2014. Sally Johnston, New Zealand Food Safety’s manager food and beverage, said that under the Food Act all people growing, making, transporting and selling food had a responsibility to keep it safe and suitable.
“Most New Zealand food businesses have now registered, which is excellent,” she said. “If existing food businesses are not registered by the 28 February deadline, they will be operating unregistered businesses, their retail customers may refuse to accept their goods or use their services, and MPI and local councils may need to take enforcement action. So, immediate action needs to be taken to get registered.
Businesses are encouraged to voluntarily meet the requirements of the Food Act 2014 – they need to provide safe and suitable food. However, if there are problems with a food business, a food safety officer may get involved.
Under the Food Act, officers from MPI have been given tools to more effectively protect consumers from unsafe food and unethical food operators. Food safety officers have the power to issue instant fines, interrupt operations or even close the establishment if food safety or suitability is threatened. Compliance orders can also be issued by a District Court to compel business owners to take certain actions. There are significant penalties for serious food safety offences.