Dumpster food evidence excluded in health violation trial of Chinese restaurant owners
Restaurant owners still face criminal charges of health violations
The owners of a Chinese restaurant in Turku went on trial on Wednesday for long-standing violations of health regulations.
However, the prosecutor unexpectedly decided not to press charges against the owner over a case that caused a considerable uproar in the autumn, when a health inspector found a package of sweet potatoes in the restaurant's storeroom. The package, whose sell-by date had expired, had allegedly been taken out of the waste container of a nearby department store.
During a break in the proceedings, prosecutor Tuomas Oja said that he could not prosecute over the sweet potatoes, because he had no evidence that the food found in the bin had been used in meals served to the restaurant's customers.
The owners of the restaurant had said that the sweet potatoes were intended for their own consumption.
One of the witnesses, Turku's leading hygienist Pentti Janatuinen, expressed surprise at the decision, noting that the whole case came about because food that had been thrown in the trash that had been found in the restaurant.
He said that it is impossible to find a witness who would testify to seeing food taken from the dumpster being put in portions for the customers.
"I am no lawyer, but I believe that it is enough evidence that this kind of food was found in the restaurant's food storage area", he said in court.
According to Janatuinen, food is considered to be spoiled "if it has been in a waste container, and thus, could have been in contact with spoiled food, even if it were otherwise a first class steak".
During his inspection, the health inspector found a package on the floor of the restaurant's utility closet wrapped in the plastic cling film and bearing the EAN code of the food department of the nearby Wiklund's department store.
According to Janatuinen, the inspector had a small scuffle with the staff of the restaurant when he took the package with him. There had been a number of other similar packages, but their labels had been removed.
The health inspector who found the package was heard in court, but he was not allowed to testify about the dumpster food, because there had been no mention of it in the indictment.
The inspector was surprised at the exclusion of the evidence, noting "that's why we are here".
"There was so much grease on the restaurant floor that I nearly fell down. The windows were so greasy that you couldn't see into the yard", said the inspector, describing one inspection of the restaurant that took place already in 2002.
The Chinese couple who own the restaurant still face criminal charges of health violations between early April 2000 and the end of July 2004. According to the indictment, they had blatantly violated rules of health and food regulations, and had flouted orders given by the city's health inspectors.
The actions were also said to have caused danger to the lives and health of others.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Restaurant suspected of using food from garbage bin to face charges (9.11.2004)
Turku restaurant suspected of collecting food from waste bin (18.8.2004)