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Landmark ruling on out-of-date food

Corin Williams04/06/2014 - 14:00

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The FSA has called the test case 'nationally important'
The FSA has called the test case 'nationally important'

A Welsh butcher’s firm has been fined £15,000 for selling out-of-date frozen meat at a second court hearing, after it was initially cleared by magistrates over three years ago.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said the judgement was of ‘significant importance’ and that it now ‘clarifies beyond doubt’ councils’ ability to enforce key pieces of food safety law.

Cwmbran-based Douglas Willis Ltd was prosecuted by Torfaen Council in September 2011 after trading standards officers discovered packages of frozen meat that in some cases were 14 months past their ‘use by’ date.

In total, 23 charges were brought against the company under Regulation 44(1)(d) of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 made under the Food Safety Act 1990.

Despite the apparently clear-cut nature of the case, Newport magistrates court found in favour of the defendant, who argued there was no proof that the food was ‘highly perishable’.

The council pursued an appeal through the High Court and then at the Supreme Court, which ruled in July last year that the case be heard again.

Five Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed that not being able undertake such prosecutions would ‘seriously weaken the regulatory scheme and the protection provided to consumers’.

The second prosecution was heard at Caerphilly magistrates court on 15 May.

Douglas Willis Ltd pleaded guilty to 12 charges of selling food after the use-by date, including beef calves, duck legs, liver, Polish sausage, beef burgers, wild Scottish venison, and chicken and duck breast fillet.

The company was fined £1,250 per offence, along with a £15 victim surcharge. Costs of £12,000 were awarded to the prosecution.

An FSA spokesperson said: ‘This judgement now clarifies beyond doubt that food that has passed its “use by” date should never be sold to consumers.

The legal arguments in this case have been recognised as having significant importance nationally both for local authority enforcers and for the food industry generally.

‘Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to enforce the provisions of the Food Safety Act which includes provisions governing food labelling and durability dates on foods.’

Gwyneira Clark, Torfaen’s executive member for housing, planning and public protection, said: ‘This is a landmark ruling and an important test case for food safety legislation in this country.

‘Accurate food labelling is essential in ensure food is safe to eat. The company has taken on board what we have said to them and the advice we've given to ensure this does not happen again.’

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