Dirty Supermarkets

Reporter: Rodney Lohse

Everybody has the right to be concerned about food security and safety, like what chemicals. Pesticides and fertilizers are being used in our food. But what about the cleanliness of your local supermarket contamination can just as easily occur on supermarket shelves and with 5.4 million cases of food poisoning recorded every year costing the nation $1.25 billion it's perhaps time to have look the shelves your food is being kept on. We've been blitzed recently with campaigns telling us whose prices are down, but tonight we see whose standards are down.

Behind the hype many are filthy, dirty and mouldy. Tonight what they don't want you too see the conditions of where your food is kept

It seems staff don't care either, with admissions cleaning isn't a priority, choosing instead to sweep the problem under the carpet

At this Woolworths store, we had to show them their Devon sausage had gone off.

Makes you wonder how often they look in the fridge let alone clean them

"Is that cleaned out very often?" we ask.

"Um it is checked on a daily basis but I guess not real thoroughly."

It was no surprise to a fridge mechanic. If everyone can see it, why is nothing done about it?

"they don't give the staff time to do the cleaning it's always a pressure to get the load done."

But cleaning is never a priority, according to this senior Coles employee.

"I was aware of one store that had to spend over a hundred thousand dollars in less than a week too bring it up to standard because of the lack of maintenance that had done in regards to cleaning and standards."

And where there's old food remnants there's vermin

"There were problems with rats chewing through electrical cables in the fresh produce display case."

Given what they deemed as clean, we conducted our own undercover pest control inspections.

Dozens of vermin and cockroach traps were set amongst our biggest supermarkets and takeaway stores across Brisbane.

While the rodents and bugs had eluded us, the evidence of dirt and grime just couldn't be ignored. Food safety experts agree bad cleaning practices can have more serious consequences

"If it hasn't been cleaned properly there's potential for contamination even though the foods are all sealed theirs still potential for contamination from bacteria and other things on the outside of the product."

Food auditor, Rachelle Williams says it's appalling "It shows signs of build up it's been there for quite some time it's not today, it's not yesterday, it's quite some time, it's just unacceptable."

And it's breaking the national food standards code "There's a set of laws, the standards code, in it says cleaning is mandatory, this is showing cleaning's not happening as well as it should."

Companies can be prosecuted for breaking the food act 2006. But is anyone policing this? We alerted the Brisbane city council, who supposed to conduct inspections on food premises. They didn't think our findings were worth investigating.

But microbiologist Glen Pinna says there is reason to be concerned

"My real worry is for people who are in this area and you see this high level of mould growing, that means there is very likely to be a high level of spores, you're going to breathe them in, you're going to start getting an allergic reaction."

And it doesn't matter how clean an eatery appears, the product can still harbour harmful bacteria

"You're supposed to have less than ten thousand bacteria in every gram of cooked food and in these cases we found up to 160,000 in every gram."

We conducted tests at shopping centre eateries, the food courts outside your local supermarket..

"Only in half an hour to six hours your likely to get vomiting and that can develop into diarrhoea. It was interesting because the three samples that we got were all black bean beef type samples and one of the reasons this can occur is that at the end of the day, food is not thrown away.. It's brought back out the next day and reheated, the other possibility is it's not kept at the right temperature."

All of us run the takeaway gauntlet

"There's no way that you can look at a food and tell if there's a food pathogen in there or that it's come out or you're looking at something that was made three days ago. You have to rely on good quality from the people you're buying the food from." Glen said.

Both Coles and Woolworths say their cleaning procedures are spot on

Statement coles

"Coles store teams are passionate about giving customers a clean and pleasant shopping environment. All stores are cleaned daily, by both specialist cleaning contractors and store team members. Our store teams operate with a 'clean as you go' policy, meaning cleaning is a constant part of their role. Store managers conduct daily checks for cleanliness and any spills are cleaned as soon as they are sighted by a team member."

Statement woolworths

It's concerning when incidents of uncleanliness are brought to our attention as our teams have strict cleaning and hygiene processes in place in all of our stores.

The Woolworths sanitation program focuses on cleanliness, food hygiene and customer safety with the highest priority placed on those surfaces that come in direct contact with food.

We have a specialised floor program to clear any spills and fallen scraps as soon as they occur or our staff are made aware of them. In addition, all surfaces are cleaned regularly and all equipment that comes into contact with food is sanitised once used.

If a customer does see any cleanliness issue that has not yet been addressed they should inform a staff member.

We are continually investigating new procedures to improve our cleaning program such as micro-biological testing we have introduced in the deli

Woolworths serves over 20 million customers a week and incidents such as this are rare and our aim is to make them rarer still.