Countdown to close as more rats found

Countdown Dunedin South will be closed for a deep clean over the weekend. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Countdown Dunedin South will be closed for a deep clean over the weekend. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Staff at a Dunedin supermarket will spend the weekend cleaning their rat-plagued store.

Woolworths New Zealand director of stores Jason Stockill said Countdown Dunedin South, at 323 Andersons Bay Rd, would close for at least 48 hours, from 10pm yesterday, so pest control efforts could be stepped up after four rats were caught at the store over the past four days.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said it would be involved in the decision-making about when the store reopened.

The South Dunedin supermarket came to national attention last month after staff members told the Otago Daily Times rats were running rampant in the store and they feared the public could have been sold contaminated food.

A photo, taken in November last year, was then supplied to the ODT showing a rat in the deli section.

An employee who asked not to be named yesterday said while the store’s rat issue had been taken seriously of late, the initial response was slow.

The supermarket continued to underplay the issue, the employee said.

"From the beginning, management minimised this, saying there was one rat," they said.

"We lost a lot of time with that, trying to convince management that this was a problem.

"A lot of what we’ve been hearing ... is that they’ve been doing their ‘legal minimum’, which is a bit of a slap in the face."

Staff rostered on for this weekend were expected to go in to do deep cleaning, they said.

Mr Stockill said the store would close so pest control contractors and the ministry’s New Zealand Food Safety could have full access to the store.

"Food safety is our absolute priority and we have been working closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries’ New Zealand Food Safety division and our pest control contractor Rentokil.

"We believed we had addressed the issue, as there had been no evidence of rodent activity since January 28.

"Unfortunately, we have caught four rodents over the last few days, so it is clear we have more work to do."

Countdown Dunedin South would close for the next 48 hours after it became clear the pest management plan in place was "not working as effectively as anticipated".

"Having a safe and hygienic store is incredibly important to us and we would like to apologise to our customers for any distress and inconvenience this update causes.

"We will reopen when we are confident these additional measures have been implemented.

"We anticipate this will be on Monday morning," he said.

A Woolworths spokeswoman said the fresh food would be removed from the store while the work was under way.

New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said after a meeting between New Zealand Food Safety and Woolworths senior staff, it was agreed the supermarket should close while it underwent a deep clean and the store put in place additional pest-management strategies to eliminate rats.

"We will support Woolworths during this process, including having an experienced NZFS food compliance officer on-site to assist," Mr Arbuckle said.

"We will be part of the decision-making process and we support Woolworths’ intention to reopen when they are confident that the rodents’ pattern of coming into the store has been disrupted.

"Food safety is our top priority, so we will continue to monitor this situation and work with Woolworths to put in place further actions if this is needed."

A Dunedin City Council spokesman confirmed New Zealand Food Safety had asked a council staff member to join an inspection of the area immediately surrounding the Countdown store, "just to see if there were any obvious problems in the area".

The inspection included the neighbouring Dunedin Gasworks site, "although there is no indication it has contributed to the issue at the store".

First Union organiser Angus Wilson said staff rostered on at the weekend would be paid for their hours, but the union had no further comment yesterday.