Cafe ruined by Target's false slur

By Rebecca Lewis

The owners of a Ponsonby cafe falsely accused by TV3's Target show of serving contaminated food say the blunder has left them on the brink of bankruptcy.

The June 16 edition of the consumer show featured a hidden camera segment assessing the hygiene standards of eight Auckland cafes, and claimed chicken from Cafe Cezanne contained high levels of faecal coliforms.

This week TV3 released a statement on behalf of production company Top Shelf Productions admitting food samples from the cafes were incorrectly coded and they were unable to confirm which one had produced the contaminated food.

The statement said the employee in charge of labelling the samples had been sacked.

Cafe Cezanne owners Rod Williams and Jackie Wilkinson said the "unbelievable" mistake had ruined their once-thriving business and they had taken legal advice on their next step.

"If it carries on this way we are going to go bankrupt," Williams said.

"Our meals are quite reasonably priced and we go for volume in our cafe, but things have been so much quieter.

"We are pretty disappointed and our staff are very upset by everything."

The cafe received an A grade rating during a food and safety inspection by the Auckland City Council last month.

Both owners said the mistake was unforgivable and wanted to know more about how it had happened.

Wilkinson said they contacted Target before the show aired to say there was a mistake with the food sample.

"We knew there were a few errors in their facts but they went ahead anyway and we have noticed a serious downturn in clientele since then," she said. "Then they come out with an apology but it's too late. It's shocking.

"We're usually busy through the week, on weekends and in the evenings but now it's really quiet.

"Sometimes we hear people walking past and saying 'That was the dirty place on Target'. It's horrible."

Target executive producer Laurie Clarke said the mistake was "embarrassing" but was satisfied it was down to a single employee.

"We had followed basic procedure but fell down when it came to labelling the samples," he said. "Of course it is embarrassing for us. We are a programme that critiques the performances of other industries so we have to maintain a high standard ourselves."

Restaurant Association chief executive Alistair Rowe said the mistake was "irresponsible" and had destroyed the owners' livelihood.

"It should have been obvious it was falsely contaminated food because it came back with a very high number for contamination - it was almost pure poo," he said.

"In my opinion Target deserves to get sued, and I will personally stand there in court and clap if they do.

"To get something like this wrong is just plain irresponsible."

- Herald on Sunday

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