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Food for thought – getting tougher on safety and hygiene

Food poisoning, poor hygiene and misleading labelling – any company found in breach of regulations covering these areas now face potentially heftier fines with the introduction of new sentencing penalties.

For the first time ever, courts can now focus on an organisation’s annual turnover as a starting point for a fine meaning a large company committing a serious offence could be penalised up to £3 million.

The new guidelines, covering offences committed under Regulation 19 of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 and the corresponding regulations in Wales, came into effect in February 2016.

Fairer fines

A spokesperson for The Sentencing Council commented: “The increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed.

“The Council wants fines for these offences to be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of the offenders.”

Bristol hotel fined over food poisoning

In June 2015, Eclipse Hotels, which runs the city centre’s Holiday Inn, was fined £65,000 following a food poisoning outbreak in which at least 44 people were thought to have been infected with three people admitted to hospital.

All of the guests concerned had eaten chicken liver parfait in November 2013 which tests showed was the source of the infection. A single batch had been prepared in advance and served to each of the affected parties over a seven day period.

Eclipse Hotels (Bristol) pleaded guilty to a total of four offences – three relating to the sale of unsafe food on separate occasions and the fourth relating to a failure to implement an effective food safety management system.

Under the new sentencing guidelines, the hotel is likely to have been ordered to pay a much larger fine.

Naming and shaming?

At the same time as the new guidelines, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also launched a live map which links to a database of successful food safety and hygiene prosecutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It gives details of local authority food hygiene and food safety prosecutions with the name of the offender, legislation breached and fine imposed.

The FSA’s database can be accessed here

  • For help and advice about food safety and hygiene related legal issues, please contact Michael Gupwell at Wards Solicitors.

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