A Coles worker says there's a chance rat excrement is seeping into products due to a "complete" infestation at one of the supermarket's major distribution centres. The retailer, however, says it takes food safety seriously.
After six years at the facility, a picker and packer has revealed to Yahoo News Australia what he claims really goes on inside the warehouse after sneaking his banned mobile phone into the centre to capture photos and video of the pest problem.
"I just think the public has a right to know how these sorts of companies pursue profit at all costs, and screw them," said the disgruntled employee, who asked not to be named.
In a series of images shared with Yahoo, rats can be seen running across the floor of the Brisbane facility, while the dead bodies of several baby rats lay on packs of toilet paper, after they chewed into multiple rolls. Video shows two rats "fighting over territory" at the warehouse, from which groceries are distributed to all of Queensland and part of NSW.
'Rats faeces everywhere'
"In the beginning, the rats were quite rare, but in the last two years I haven't been able to go down an aisle without seeing one," the worker explained, describing the Forest Lakes facility as the size of Brisbane Cricket Ground. "It's a complete infestation and the rats are defecating and pissing all over the products. There are rat faeces everywhere and the stench is terrible."
Beyond the mess left behind, the employee claims rodents are also getting into items, resulting in an extreme amount of waste. "They rip into things like long-life milk — UP&GO is one of their favourites, especially the strawberry — and Campbell's stock and Arnott's biscuits," he said.
"They're biting into the product... and some of it might make its way to stores. Obviously a second pair of hands might throw it out, but the worry for me is that there's 100 per cent potential for some of their excrement to have seeped into the product."
The staff member explained that damaged stock is cleared from shelves, but claimed sometimes it's then selected to be sent to a food bank.
Rat problem ignored
The employee said he repeatedly notified the business about the rat issue, but no one wanted to hear about it. "It just seemed like a problem that they sort of washed their hands of because they didn't have to deal with it," he said. "They just weren't really worried or even care about what happened in the warehouse because they saw themselves as above that."
The man said different pest control companies were eventually sent in, generic traps were laid, and new baits were trialled, but the problem just got worse. And now he claims the rats are on the move as Coles transitions from its Forest Lake facility to the new Redbank automated distribution centre.
"They've been shipping products over there, and I've never been there but I've heard the whispers that they're pretty annoyed that the rats have come over," he said.
"This last month we finished packing a lot of the product to go over to the new Redbank centre. So we stacked it all but then it sat there for over a week, where rats could get in it because they had nowhere else to go. And then a week later, they put out all these sticky traps around, but it was too late. The rats were already in there."
Employee quits over 'revolting' conditions
The man went on to explain that the "pure infestation" led him to hand in his resignation after almost six years at the centre. "It's just demotivating to see these dead rats and to smell them — living ones, dead ones and everything you're picking," he said. "Like sometimes you pick things and juice and stuff would just spray over you and you would just be revolted."
"Then you've got managers up your bum because they're counting your seconds, like anything over a two-minute break in between a peak slot is seen as excessive, and they'll reprimanded you for it straight away."
He added that workers were concerned about the risk of catching diseases from rats, but "we didn't want to say anything for fear of reprisals".
Now though, he said he's decided "enough is enough". "It's come to the end, I've got nothing to lose now, and they're not doing the right thing by us so I'm going to let the public know," he said.
Coles addresses worker's claims
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, a spokesperson for the supermarket giant said, "Coles takes food safety seriously. We work hard to keep a clean environment in our stores and DCs (distribution centres)."
"We have an integrated pest management system, which primarily focuses on keeping pests out, and then controlling pests should they find their way in."
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