Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has stood by his decision to close a suburban caterer after listeria was detected in its kitchen, along with poor food safety practices.

A parliamentary inquiry is examining the closure of I Cook Foods in 2019 amid claims from the company that the Dandenong council conspired to close them, including the planting of a slug in its kitchen.

At the time, Professor Sutton was acting chief health officer and closed the business after the death of elderly woman Jean Painter in the Knox Private Hospital was linked to listeria.

A close genetic match from listeria detected in Ms Painter and in food samples at I Cook Foods prompted the closure, given the company provided foods to vulnerable clients including hospitals and nursing homes, the chief health officer said.

There were also dozens of food safety breaches detected at the company’s South Dandenong kitchen, Professor Sutton told the inquiry.

The inquiry was reopened after evidence emerged from a Knox council inspector that suggested Ms Painter may not have eaten I Cook Foods products, with six other suppliers also contracted to the hospital.

Professor Sutton told the inquiry dozens of food safety breaches were detected at the company’s South Dandenong kitchen.(

ABC News: Peter Healy


Professor Sutton said this evidence, which was given to him after he issued the closure, would not have changed his mind.

The Chief Health Officer and other officials came under fire from Coalition MPs during the hearing about why other suppliers were not tested to see if they were the source of the listeria.

Deputy Chief Health officer Angie Bone said after the business was closed, the department did become aware of other high-risk suppliers to the hospital.

Ben Cook, wearing a suit jacket, looks sternly at the camera in a commercial kitchen.
Ben Cook is the co-owner of the family I Cook Foods catering business in Dandenong.(

ABC News: Daniel Fermer


But other routine testing had not shown any cause of concern.

Asked by Liberal MP Craig Ondarchie whether he was convinced he got the decision to close right, Professor Sutton replied: “I am. I accept that there is no single piece of evidence that is definitive.”

Daughters back decision to close company

Thursday would have been Ms Painter’s 89th birthday. Her daughters also told the inquiry they saw their mother eat packaged sandwiches at the hospital.

Jo Woodstock said the media coverage of the closure had been distressing and lashed out at the company for driving a mobile billboard around the city attacking Professor Sutton.

The daughters backed the chief health officer’s decision to close the business.

Former health minister Jenny Mikakos also fronted the inquiry, backing Professor Sutton’s decision.

Ms Mikakos said she did not think anyone in the Health Department acted in an improper way.

I Cook Foods owner Ian Cook said a federal intervention was needed.

“The dishonesty on display today was breathtaking,” he said.

“The indisputable facts surrounding our matter clearly won’t come out from this state government.


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