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Chef unaware of bacteria

A restaurant chef who prepared a cream asparagus sauce eaten by a diner who later died has told an inquest that he was not trained to be aware of toxic pathogenic bacteria that could form in the preparation of some vegetables.

Sous chef Douglas Gunn, 33, who until May last year had been the second chef at the prominent Tables restaurant in Pymble, said he believed the lack of knowledge about vegetable bacteria toxins was the same throughout the food industry and that the training of apprentice chefs only dealt with warnings on the handling of fish, poultry and meat.

Mr Gunn was giving evidence at the Westmead Coroners Court inquest into the death of 81-year-old retired Pymble accountant William Hodgins.

The pathogen Bacillus Cereus was found at almost 10 times its toxic level in a cream asparagus sauce seized by a Food Authority inspector from the cool room of the Tables Restaurant on Saturday January 13, last year after Mr Hodgins had been found dead in an ensuite bathroom of his home at 6.30am that day.

Hornsby Police who attended the scene were told by Mr Hodgins's widow, Audrey, that he had begun vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea within an hour of leaving the nearby Tables restaurant at 9.30pm the night before where her husband had dined on the snapper fish of the day special that included the asparagus cream sauce.

Police located seven other patrons of 14 who had dined on the fish of the day that night at the restaurant.

Two had said that they had experienced a reaction to something after they left. They included a man who broke out in a rash and a woman who vomited that night. At the time she thought her reaction was due to her treatment for cancer.

In earlier evidence to the inquest before Coroner Jane Culver, police said scientific analysis of the high toxicity level of the Bacillus Cereus bacteria had concluded it could only have arose from being subjected to "temperature abuse'' in that it was taken from the cool room and reheated and cooled a number of times over a 48 hour period.

Mr Gunn who had been employed at Tables restaurant for three years before the death, said he had prepared the sauce at 3.30pm on Thursday, January 11, on instructions from Tables restaurant co-owner Daniel Brukark for the following night's fish of the day special and that it was placed in the cool room overnight.

He said if such a dish had been left out for more than two hours and not placed in the cool room after it had been prepared he would have thrown it out.

But he admitted under cross examination from counsel assisting the Coroner, Peter Bertram, that he had not placed a date label on the batch had he prepared for Friday, a requirement of all restaurants.

Mr Brukark told the inquest yesterday that he had not been involved in the sauce's preparation and that Mr Gunn had be employed with references from two of Sydney's prestige restaurants, Aria and Level 41.

He said Mr Gunn was no longer employed by Tables restaurant but it nothing to do with the death of Mr Hodgins.

Forensic pathologist Dr Judith McGreath told the inquest by telephone that Mr Hodgins had died from gastric ruptures bought about by two tears, through the lining wall of his stomach, such ruptures she had never seen before.

Dr McGreath said the tears were a result of "violent vomiting" and that food poisoning was also a possible cause.

She said the vomiting also placed stress and pressure on Mr Hodgins heart and that the steroid drug Prednisolone that Mr Hodgins had been taking for arthritis would have suppressed his immune response to bacteria.

The inquest continues today.


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