Butcher put new dates on old meat

By Lincoln Tan, Amelia Wade, Teuila Fuatai

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A butchery manager at an Auckland supermarket was sacked for disguising old meat with new "best before" date labels.

West Auckland man Michael Dick was fired from his job at the Westgate Countdown in September 2010 after colleagues saw him repackaging chicken and adding a new "best before" date of the following day to extend the shelf life.

He did a similar thing with beef -mincing it and rewrapping it before putting it back out for sale- and was also seen putting "reduced" or "manager's special" stickers on the meat.

Mr Dick took the supermarket chain to the Employment Relations Authority, which has found Countdown was justified in firing him.

He claimed he was trained to handle meat that way, and was under pressure from the company to keep costs down.

But Countdown denied his actions were common practice and said anyone caught compromising standards was dealt with quickly.

The ERA found there was no evidence to support Mr Dick's claim that the practice was in use when he began working at the supermarket.

Last night, Mr Dick would say only: "We fought the battle and lost, unfortunately, but life continues."

The ERA said in its decision, made public yesterday, that on September 20, 2010, Mr Dick was seen trimming fat from beef pieces, before mincing and rewrapping the meat.

He placed the minced meat back on shelves for sale, with a new best-before date for the next day.

An investigation was started, and the company discovered he had altered wastage figures for his department, reducing the amount of waste recorded on September 11 from $786.60 to $331.46 without telling anyone.

Mr Dick claimed the store had a practice of rewrapping and relabelling meat to reduce waste, and said Countdown wanted workers to keep the value of wasted meat below a set amount.

Meeting that target helped earn a bonus, he said.

He said other employees were doing the same thing and had not been dismissed.

Countdown spokesman Luke Schepen said any claim that what Mr Dick did was standard practice at Countdown was false.

"The safety of our team members and our customers is an absolute priority. On the rare occasion we find anyone compromising this commitment, we take swift and immediate action, and have done so in this case."

Dr Mark Hobbs from Auckland City Hospital said eating old meat, particularly chicken, was "never good".

"But if it's only a day later, it probably was not going to make much difference," he added.

Mr Dick's lawyer, Max Whitehead, said his client had worked in the industry for 24 years and had always re-packaged meat.

"Not to a dangerous capacity where the public have to be concerned, but he's been doing this labelling all this time. That's why he couldn't believe it when he was facing dismissal."

Mr Dick, who is in his 40s, did not think his actions endangered the public, Mr Whitehead said.

Days after he was dismissed from Countdown, Mr Dick got a job as a butcher elsewhere in Auckland, but Mr Whitehead would not say where that was.

"It's hard to find good butchers and he has got a good reputation," the lawyer said. "He's a damn fine one. He's very proud about what he said."

Mr Whitehead said Mr Dick's difficulty was that he was unable to find witnesses willing to testify against their employer and back his claims that relabelling was common.

- NZ Herald

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