Countdown to stay closed after four more rats found

Woolworths New Zealand confirmed this photo of a rat, reflected in a mirror in the deli section,...
Woolworths New Zealand confirmed this photo of a rat, reflected in a mirror in the deli section, was taken at its Dunedin South Countdown supermarket, at 323 Andersons Bay Rd, in November. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Four more rats have been caught at South Dunedin’s Countdown today, to go with 13 over the weekend, and the supermarket says it will remain closed for another 24 hours.

Woolworths New Zealand director of stores Jason Stockill advised of the news this afternoon, saying the four rats caught today were thought to have been in the store when entry/exit sites were sealed over the weekend.

"In order to check any other rodents captured in store have been caught, we are keeping the store closed for a further 24 hours. We thank our customers for their patience and ongoing support.

"We continue to work alongside MPI and Rentokil who confirm there is no sign of nesting activity inside the store."

After pest controllers caught 13 rats at the weekend, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) recommended that Woolworths not reopen the store.

Woolworths New Zealand earlier said there was still no evidence of rats nesting in the store, but work at the weekend had uncovered new "entry points", the store had been unaware of. 

Mr Stockill said on Friday the store would close for at least the weekend so pest control efforts could be stepped up after four rats were caught at the store over the past week.

Yesterday, Mr Stockill said the store would remain closed today as further rat control efforts were under way.

This morning, MPI’s New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said NZFS had  said 13 rats had been caught at the store over the weekend.

He said the store would reopen only with the ministry’s approval.

"The store will reopen once NZFS and Woolworths are satisfied that there is evidence that the new pest-control measures have worked.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and a senior NZFS food compliance officer is onsite to assist."

Countdown Dunedin South, at at 323 Andersons Bay Rd, 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 , which Countdown confirmed showed a rat in its South Dunedin deli section.

On Friday, Mr Stockill said he thought the issue had been addressed since there had been no evidence of rodent activity at the store from January 28 until last week, but having caught four rodents over a few days showed there was more work to do.

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

"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 Woolworths spokesman said the company believed "all entry sites have been identified -- and now sealed".

"With our increased pest management and the uncovering of the extra entry points, there were 13 rats caught over the weekend."

Some readers have raised concerns food was being transported from the South Dunedin store to other Countdowns in the city.

However, the spokesman said no food was moved from the store, transported or sold at other locations.

He also addressed concerns there were issues at neighbouring properties. 

"While we can not comment on the surrounding areas, NZ Food Safety is working with the local council surveying neighbouring areas as part of a co-ordinated response."

A Dunedin City Council spokesman said on Friday there was no indication neighbours had contributed to the issue.