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Artefacts highlight public safety

Published:  14 September 2020

It looks like a starter kit for a young witch, but the Townsville Public Health Unit’s collection of artefacts tells the story of generations of work keeping the North Queensland community safe.

From a manky pigeon claw clutching a diced carrot, ‘White Christmas’ with a nail through it and the odd spattering of bongs and hookahs each item has an important public health story to tell.

“We get a few strange looks, particularly if people catch a glimpse of the pigeon claw,” environmental health manager Damien Farrington said.

“Some bloke found the claw in his beef-and-black bean takeaway and was obviously not particularly impressed, so he gave us a call.

“Over the years we’ve had a few doozies and we keep a few of the stranger examples in public health.”

Damien leads a team of 10 environmental health officers in Townsville and Mount Isa who run routine compliance checks for multiple pieces of legislation including the Food Act 2006 and Tobacco and other Smoking Products Act 1998.

Damien said his team wasn’t out to get people, but repeated breaches could lead to prosecution.

“We would much rather people comply than be prosecuted,” he said.

“A good day for us is leaving a business saying, ‘see you next time’, not ‘see you in court’.

“The ultimate outcome of the work we do is to make sure we keep our community safe.”

Damien said the bongs and hookahs were used to teach new staff about the requirements under the Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1998.

“These products are clearly defined in legislation, so we need our compliance officers to be aware of what constitutes a breach of the act,” he said.

“Bongs cannot be sold or displayed, and hookahs must be limited to a maximum of three at any one time.

“Failure to comply with the legislation that leads to a conviction can result in fines of more than $18,000 which is a lot of reggae records.”

Damien said the display also included some old bits of technology that were used to identify any food safety or smoking breaches.

Among them is a hand refractometer, which looks a bit like a periscope, that is used to measure the sugar content of drinks such as juice and beer.

“The machine measures solids in liquid so we can determine how much sugar is in drinks like juice or how much alcohol is in beer,” he said.

“This is important because it means that we can ensure what companies are advertising on their label is actually reflective of what is contained in their product.

“The community expects that food is safe, what they pay for is what is advertised and that things that aren’t allowed to be sold aren’t sold.

"That is where we come in and is important work.”

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