One in 10 restaurants and cafes across NSW has been fined for food safety breaches in the past five years, from preparing meals in filthy kitchens to failing to control bug infestations.
The first full release of data from the Food Authority's Name and Shame register reveals that more than 3500 of the 36,000 eateries inspected across the state each year over that period failed hygiene tests at least once.
More than 1000 of the 8042 penalty notices issued in the past five years related to cockroach infestations, rodent activity and droppings in commercial kitchens.
Unsanitary food preparation areas, dirty equipment and lack of easily accessible hand-washing facilities made up nearly half the offences.
The data, obtained under freedom of information laws, also revealed that since 2008:
- The City of Sydney Council was home to the state's most hazardous kitchens, with 820 fines. Willoughby, North Sydney, Fairfield and Blacktown councils each delivered more than 300 fines.
- The worst fast food offender was Domino's Pizza, with 31 branches hit with 50 penalty notices, followed by KFC with 24 branches accumulating 40 fines.
- The worst re-offender was the recently defunct Hong Hai Noodle Bar in the CBD, which was given 21 penalty notices worth $8580, including five fines last year.
- In regional NSW, the filthiest restaurants were in Gosford, Blue Mountains and Wyong council areas, each recording more than 100 offences.
Food inspectors have hauled in $4.7 million worth of fines. A record $1.16 million in revenue from fines was posted last year.
The biggest number of fines was recorded in 2009, with 2044 issued against restaurants. That year, Jemes Fish Market in Ashfield was infamously caught storing live crabs in a toilet cubicle. Choy Restaurant in Randwick was also fined for having a dead rat in its storage area.
The food safety offences did not surprise food safety specialist Gavin Buckett, founder of consultancy The Gourmet Guardian, who has inspected kitchen and storage areas in restaurants across Sydney.
He has seen food items stored in unused rubbish bins and black sludge built up inside the dishwashers used for plates, glasses and crockery.
''Last month I saw a bakery in Marrickville cool their baked products, like bread, outside on trolleys in a multi-business industrial car park that anyone can access,'' Mr Buckett said. ''I am told they do this every day.''
He said laziness and complacency among restaurant owners and staff were key reasons why kitchen hygiene was often neglected.
Pest exterminator of 20 years Gordon Simms, from Bugs-Be-Gone, said restaurants who stopped regular pest control should expect insect and rodent numbers to escalate quickly.
"You need to get rid of 95 per cent to gain control. They can come back in three months if nothing is done," he said.
Mr Simms also warned of greater rodent activity this winter after detecting an unusually high number this year.
Food Authority NSW spokesman Rebecca Bowman said the public register has had a positive impact on the food trade. Last year 785 food businesses were named and shamed compared with 1309 businesses the year before.
"The number of food businesses appearing on the register has almost halved in three years," she said.
Each penalty notice published on the Name and Shame website expires 12 months after the fine is paid.
Re-offenders come clean
The large and bustling Kam Fook restaurant in Chatswood is Sydney's worst serial offender still operating on the Food Authority's Name and Shame register.
The popular yum cha destination able to seat 600 people has been hit with 17 fines worth $13,640 in the past five years.
The latest offences were in 2011 when inspectors found mould and food waste on coolroom shelving, above and below unprotected food. Raw chicken was also found in a colander on the floor.
Manager Edmond Yuen said the restaurant now had a new owner who had brought in new health and hygiene practices.
"We are doing everything in more detail and check more often. Everything must be clean. I can say the new owner is going much better," he said. "There's been a big improvement."
Top Choice BBQ restaurant in Burwood has also been slapped with 17 fines, including three last year for having uncovered food stored on the coolroom floor and allowing the accumulation of dirt and grease. No fines were issued in 2010 and 2011.
Owner of 15 years Peter Ma has paid food authority fines of $11,660. He said he joined his staff to clean the restaurant for nearly two hours every day after closing. "Being clean is important to us,'' he said.
The son of the owner of Shanghai Night Restaurant in Ashfield, Yang Qin, said his mother's lack of English meant she was susceptible to making mistakes.
"But she's learning from them so the penalties never happen again. The pest control people come every three months and we have the certificates," he said.