iCook Foods founder Ian Cook claims no evidence was used to destroy his business

The owner of a Melbourne catering company shut down by the state government over listeria concerns has told a parliamentary inquiry the ruin of his business was driven by a lack of evidence.

I Cook Foods, based in Dandenong, was closed in 2019 after an elderly woman died in Knox Private hospital, which the caterer supplied, with listeriosis suspected as contributing to her death.

The parliamentary inquiry into the closure of I Cook Foods was reopened after fresh allegations were raised in the media about the family-owned business.

Senior council officers testifying at the inquiry claimed evidence surrounding the case was doctored and destroyed, and there was little evidence to suggest the woman had eaten sandwiches from the business.

The case has brought the Greater Dandenong Council and the Department of Health under scrutiny for their handling of and involvement in the investigation.

The boss of iCook Foods, Ian Cook (right), says his company was treated differently by Greater Dandenong Council. Picture: Alex Coppel

Knox Council environmental health officer Ray Christy was sent to investigate connections between the pathogen and the company three weeks after the woman’s death on February 4, 2019.

Mr Christy told the inquiry the food history of the patient had by that time been destroyed, and the lack of evidence made it impossible to prove the woman had eaten food from the company despite the Department of Health shutting down the business over fears of a link.

Mr Christy also said he found the way the investigation was launched to be “unusual” because it had come with little information compared to a typical formal process.

The inquiry also raised questions around if the woman was infected with listeriosis before coming to hospital.

“From my opinion we’ll never, ever know the real reason why she got the infection,” Mr Christy said.

iCook Foods in Dandenong South was shut down by the state government over listeria concerns. Picture: Google

Also testifying at the inquiry was whistleblower Kim Rogerson, a former Greater Dandenong Council food inspector who has accused the council of wanting to “destroy” iCook Foods.

Ms Rogerson on Wednesday told the hearing that she witnessed officials at the council doctoring photographs of a slug that would later be used as evidence against the company.

There have been allegations the slug was planted at the site during an inspection.

“I’ve been away from the City of Greater Dandenong for over two years now, and only now do I feel safe to say that Dandenong Council operates under a culture of corruption and bullying,” she said.

“When I appeared in front of you last time I was scared, and honestly I was concerned for my safety.”

The council has vehemently denied the claims and will seek to refute the allegations when it fronts the inquiry next week.

Icook Whistleblower

Kim Rogerson said she witnessed officials at the Greater Dandenong council doctoring photographs of a slug that would later be used as evidence against the company. Picture: Mark Stewart

A fired-up Ian Cook also fronted the inquiry on Wednesday, telling the panel a second company investigated over the death of an elderly man in similar circumstances had been treated differently.

Mr Cook said one of the company’s meals retrieved from a freezer at the man’s home last month was found to contain listeria and later found in the kitchen of the provider.

He said the decision to let that firm stay open was at odds with the treatment of his company by authorities.

“They were told case closed, no more investigation,” he said.

“My business has never contributed to the death of anyone. Why was iCook Foods treated so differently?”

The inquiry will return on September 1.

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This article originally appeared on Escape

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