Consumers have grilled Checkers following a disturbing image showing whole chickens strewn over the deli floor in a store in Cape Town.
The incident that happened at the Bayside Mall in Table View, Checkers explained, was as a result of the griller being overloaded and improperly stacked.
Health24 has been inundated with several other complaints from dissatisfied customers about the food safety standards at the retail giant.
In one shocking incident, a customer actually ate maggots. Others complained about dirty and foul-smelling outlets; finding a piece of glass in steak; rats and cockroaches in shops; and food poisoning. It has also been claimed that Checkers routinely roasts expired chicken. But there were some compliments too.
A mouthful of maggots
Health24 was contacted by a disgruntled consumer who was twice disappointed with the grilled chicken he bought at Checkers in Plumstead this year.
He says he bought two pieces of chicken breast, but when he got home he discovered it was old and dry. He returned to the store for an exchange, but then made another shocking discovery: "I took a big bite and discovered the chicken was full of maggots. As you can imagine, I was beyond fuming. I had just eaten old chicken together with its 'inhabitants'."
After storming off to the store again, the shopper was offered a R50 voucher, but he first insisted on seeing proof that the store had a valid food safety certificate.
He then took his complaint to top management, who told him that the incident was isolated and not in line with the quality and hygiene control procedures in the Deli.
He was then offered a R500 voucher as an apology.
Checkers admitted to Health24 that, in this case, they failed to live up to their normal high standards.
"We have since then dealt with it rigorously internally," said spokesperson for the Checkers group Sarita van Wyk. "We have also discussed the matter again with the customer to assure him that the necessary disciplinary and corrective action has been taken."
Van Wyk added that the group conducts more than 290 000 training sessions every year.
"These include several training courses that include modules on Cleaning & Sanitising, Product Handling and Food Safety & Hygiene, that are compulsory for staff and controllers working in food preparation departments."
Fuming with frustration
After buying steak from Checkers in Kenilworth Centre, Suzanne Hubbard said she found "a piece of glass the size of a 50 cent piece in the meat" when dishing up for her family. "I was absolutely shocked." She took the matter up with the retailer via email but got no reply. "I then went to Checkers and told them about this and they said that they would look into it and get back to me. I'm still waiting."
Maureen Wentzel Andreka says she was horrified, a couple of years ago, to see someone dropping catering packs of frozen chicken portions onto the floor to separate them. "They got a good telling off!"
"Checkers Cresta has had cockroaches for over a year," wrote Michelle Schourie Simister. "When I first saw them running over the fruit and vegetables I was outraged. I went to the manager and asked him how it is possible that a food store had pests." She said that he just looked at her and shrugged his shoulders before taking off into his office.
Parthab Singh recalled that he bought samoosas once from a Checkers store in Chatsworth, but that they had gone off. "I have never bought from the deli since that day."
"I experienced rat-eaten boxes of biscuits in Boksburg," wrote Keltria Orton.
"When I brought it to the manager’s attention she said they were removing all the boxes immediately. When I left the shop, the boxes were still there. I complained on the Checkers website and the manager phoned me – very upset that I had complained."
She said she now travels 5km further to shop elsewhere.
Cases of food poisoning
"Two months ago my son and I landed in hospital for a week with salmonella poisoning caused by pies from Checkers in Pretoria," wrote Samantha Meyer.
According to them they did tests on other pies and no salmonella was found, she claimed. "When I requested the actual results, they blatantly refused to give them to me."
Dawn Erasmus-Coetzee concurred with Meyer saying she also suffered food poisoning at the hands of Checkers and was on antibiotics for three months.
"My husband and I will never buy cooked food from Checkers again after we bought bad spicy rice from our local Checkers in Brackenhurst Johannesburg.
"Checkers refused to acknowledge any fault, even though we sent all of the reports through to them and head office in Cape Town."
Katherine Emsley pointed out that she has had food poisoning twice after eating food from Checkers. She added that her neighbour also had food poisoning after eating fish from the same branch.
"Three times I've had to return cheese that was way, way past its sell-by date. One block was covered in black mould underneath the wrapping. I also discovered a whole section of cheese that was a year past its sell-by date. I pointed it out to the manager, who blamed her staff.
Emsley said after lodging several complaints and making queries, she managed to get hold of a regional manager for the Western Cape who promised to do something about the matter.
"I have yet to receive a proper apology from Checkers and not one involving shifting the blame. I no longer shop there. I travel an extra 20 minutes rather than go there."
Compliments to Checkers
Amongst the many disgruntled consumers were also some people who were happy with Checkers.
Anthoula Joshua said after shoppers forced Checkers Brackenfell to upgrade, they did. "Now I feel comfortable buying anything there. Good quality!"
It's a pity that one store can tarnish the reputation of the whole Checkers group, pointed out Charmaine Geyser.
"The checkers in Empangeni is a brilliant store. Clean, nicely stocked and friendly staff, and the food in the deli is really good. I am a loyal Checkers customer and will remain loyal," she said.
"Don't let a couple of stores dampen your view on Checkers as a whole," she advised.
Incident at Bayside Mall
Responding to the incident at Bayside Mall, Anthea Smith, who works in the shopping centre and buys her lunch from the Checkers, said the outlet does an "outstanding job".
Smith said the chicken just fell out of the hot rotisserie oven. "This was an accident and the poor girl on the floor called the manager to let him know what happened."
She added that the staff not only fetched a bucket to in which to put the contaminated chicken, but even got tongs to pick up the chicken.
"The day this story was posted, Checkers management was all over that kitchen, wow! They didn't take anything for granted – they reacted. I applaud the management of the Checkers group. Well done!"
A commitment to excellence
Van Wyk told Health24 that food safety and hygiene is a non-negotiable for Shoprite Checkers. "We adopt a zero tolerance policy on any transgressions of the standards in place, and this is independently audited."
She said the group sells some 250 million chickens per year, which is almost 40 percent of all chickens sold through retail chains in South Africa.
"These chickens are all purchased from reputable suppliers, many of which are large listed companies that hold themselves to the highest quality standards."
She emphasised that it against company policy to sell or prepare expired products. "Any customer who is not entirely satisfied with the quality of any product purchased from our stores is encouraged to return it for a refund."