Following on from my previous article, in which I explored the potential impact of the new sentencing guidelines in relation to food hygiene and safety offences, we are now starting to see how these guidelines are taking effect.
The examples below confirm that fines are indeed on the rise.
Kentucky Fried Chicken was fined £100,000 plus costs in May after pleading guilty to three food hygiene offences relating to:
- Failure to ensure there were facilities for cleaning.
- Failure to provide hot and cold running water.
- Failure to keep the premises clean.
Judge Williams said that in accordance with the sentencing guidelines there was medium culpability and the company concedes harm in category 2. He went on to say that the turnover greatly exceeds the threshold in the guidelines for a 'large' company (£50 million), which means one can move outside of them.
If we examine the guidelines, the starting point for a large company with medium culpability and a harm category of 2 is £90,000. There is then a scale from £35,000 - £220,000 to guide the court depending on aggravating and mitigating factors. As the company has a turnover above £50 million the judge was well within his rights to move outside of that range. He went on to say however "…the organisation operates 890 restaurants. It is a very large organisation. It is out of character and does its best to maintain standards."
The company pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity and this would have been taken into consideration. A deduction of up to a third would have been applied to the final fine.
It was recognised that the company, once alert to the issues, closed the restaurant and worked positively with the officers of Torfaen Council to rectify the issue. Re-inspection showed a significant improvement. This would have assisted with the company's mitigation, however £100k after a deduction is still a high sum.
Although no one was harmed (or known to be harmed) due to these basic hygiene failures, the risk of harm was clearly present. This is a reminder that there does not need to be actual harm for a prosecution to ensue. It is important for companies to be alert and ensure their procedures for overseeing facilities are managed well at all times.
A company with a restaurant in Leigh was fined £45,000 after being prosecuted for 13 breaches of food safety legislation. It was not the company alone which came under fire but the owner too. The owner was fined £11,760 and ordered to pay £2,920 in costs.
The owner had been issued with improvement notices and given advice on how to improve the premises. On later inspection the EHOs found there were a number of serious hygiene and food preparation flaws. The Magistrates were informed that the restaurant did not have adequate controls in place to ensure food stored, prepared, cooked and served to customers was safe for consumption. There were also structural and maintenance problems with the establishment which were not dealt with and had only worsened. A once popular restaurant, it has now understandably closed.
I am not aware of the turnover of the company, but this fine was decided after a guilty plea, therefore a deduction was likely. A combined fine plus costs in the region of £60k shows the lack of improvement following warnings was likely to be a major aggravating factor. This is in contrast to KFC, which has a considerably higher turnover, but made swift efforts to rectify the situation once aware of the issues.
Both cases reinforce the importance of keeping on top of the running and maintenance of a food establishment and implementing policies which are upheld. If it transpires that a breach has occurred, these cases show that co-operation may assist to head-off a prosecution, or at least reduce the possible fine.
Ashfords Regulatory Consultancy
If you would like any assistance or advice on complying with food safety requirements Ashfords regulatory consultancy service can help to take the burden of compliance off your shoulders. This service is backed up with specialist legal advice which can help you to develop and grow your business, confident that you are doing the right thing.