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File photo. A rat was pictured on top of bacon in the Dunedin South Countdown in November.
Photo: 123RF

There are fears that shoppers could be buying contaminated food and products from a Dunedin supermarket that is grappling with a rat problem.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is continuing to investigate the Dunedin South Countdown after it was alerted to complaints of rats regularly roaming through the store.

Woolworths New Zealand, which owns Countdown, has confirmed an increase in “pest activity” at the Andersons Bay Road store, prompting daily on-site visits from pest control contractors.

It appears to have been a problem for at least a couple of months. The supermarket chain confirmed that a photo of a rat perched among bacon products in the supermarket’s deli section was taken in November.

“We’ve taken a number of steps since then to tackle the rodent issue,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“It’s also worth noting that the rat in the image is reflected in a mirror at the end of the chilled aisle, so there’s only one rat, not two.”

Woolworths New Zealand has declined multiple requests by RNZ for an interview and would only provide a statement.

When that rat was seen, the product was disposed of and shelves were cleaned before restocking, the spokesperson said.

The photo was published in the Otago Daily Times on Friday.

“To ensure our store is safe for both our customers and our team we have increased our regular store cleaning, added further deep cleaning, put additional bait stations in place,” the Woolworths spokesperson said.

“We are also encouraging our team to report any pest activity or signs of it so we can continue to adjust our plan as needed.”

The government body in charge of food safety said the problem was being dealt with by the store.

New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said they were satisfied the supermarket is treating the problem with urgency

“Rats can contaminate foods and surfaces, and should not be around food. It is the responsibility of food businesses to minimise food safety risk, including having plans in place to manage pest incursions.

“Food safety is our number one priority. We are closely monitoring the company’s delivery of its actions to assess whether further steps need to be taken.”

First Union president Bill Bradford said supermarket employees were worried.

“I think it would always be a concern … if you had rats in your pantry, obviously you would get concerned about the safety of the food that’s there,” he said.

“It’s certainly a matter for both the company and to us that there could be a flow-on effect to customers.”

An employee first complained to the union of rats in December, prompting enquiries with supermarket management.

“According to them (Countdown) it hasn’t been easy,” Bradford said.

“They’ve tried a range of different things to deal with it. It has taken quite a while to get rid of them.”

Bradford said employees were displeased with the situation.

“If we can’t find a solution, then it becomes a serious heath and safety issue for workers and customers.

“The workers are concerned – no one wants to see rats going around.”

It is understood the rats had not been seen “in a few days”.

It was reported in the Otago Daily Times that an employee, who did not want to be named, had been having some “awkward” conversations since news broke of the infestation.

“Staff are glad somebody has said something. We just want something done.

“We don’t need rats in the supermarket or any of that sort of carry-on.”

Another employee told the ODT that they warned management about the problem “months ago”.

They allege management opted not to go ahead with fumigating the supermarket because they were not prepared to close for an extended period.

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