Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Guidelines toughen up on food safety

Legal experts are warning that new guidelines published by the Sentencing Council provide tougher sentencing powers designed to improve food safety.

But if that is not enough incentive to get things right, the Food Standards Agency is also now publishing an interactive map showing those who have been prosecuted and convicted of food-related offences at which in turn leads to a downloadable spreadsheet for anyone to see details of court charges and the penalties imposed.

The HSE says the objective is primarily to knowledge-share among enforcement authorities but it is also for the benefit of consumers. The FSA will regularly update the content of the database, but will ensure that cases that may be subject to appeal are not published before the outcome of the appeal, by allowing 28 days after the date of conviction before a case is added.

The Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences: Definitive Guideline will come into force from 1 February 2016 and cover offences committed under Regulation 19(1) of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 and the corresponding regulations in Wales.

Offences covered include food poisoning caused by unsafe food preparation and poor hygiene, misleading labelling, and failing to ensure traceability of products.

Producers would be well advised to ensure they keep good records of goods they supply to foodstuff producers who will be keen to demonstrate traceability, and possibly shift blame, if they face a prosecution.

As with the Health and Safety Offences and Corporate Manslaughter sentencing changes outlined separately in this edition of Longer View, the Courts will start by considering how serious the harm is and will then take a financial starting point based on the annual turnover of the business which has caused the harm.

Mitigating and aggravating factors will then be considered as the courts are required to contemplate the proportionality, as well as the financial implications, of any fine. The financial impact will be viewed in light of considerations such as the organisation’s ability to improve its standards to comply with the law, employment of staff and putting right any damage to customers. A fine within a specified range will then be applied.

Evidence of having correct procedures in place will no longer be considered a mitigating factor to avoid conviction but may help in reducing the subsequent penalty. The courts will also see failure to provide financial information as an indication that the company can pay any appropriate fine. These are both examples of how the new sentencing guidelines are designed to have a tougher impact.

The new wide-ranging guidelines are intended to hit hard and catch even the smallest of organisations. It is now essential for all of those working within the food sector to review their policies and procedures to ensure their organisation’s compliance with the law. Due diligence of suppliers and employees is key, particularly with reference to traceability. Taking these steps should stand a food business operator in good stead if an incident occurs.

Tim Jones

Tim JonesFRICS

Partner - Head of Rural Division

Tim is head of the firm's Rural Division and of the Cambridge office, although he spends a considerable amount of time in London.  He has over 20 years experience in advising institutional and pri...

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