Food fines spike following new sentencing guidelines

Average fines for food safety and hygiene offences have increased by nearly £5,000 since new sentencing guidelines were introduced in 2016.

The sharp increase was revealed in an impact assessment published by the Sentencing Council on the introduction of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences

Introduced in February 2016, the guidelines ensure that fines are proportionate to the circumstances and seriousness of the offence, including accountability and harm.

An analysis of fine amounts comparing the 10 month period before the new guidelines were introduced with the 10 months afterwards found that the average fine for food safety and hygiene offences increased from £2,200 pre-guideline to £7,100 in the post-guideline period.

The assessment also showed that the number of organisations sentenced for food safety and hygiene offences more than doubled from around 60 in 2013 to 130 in 2016 when the new guidelines were introduced, since when the figure has remained stable.

NFU Mutual, which insures businesses in the food and drink sector, said the findings should act as a warning to businesses owners about the dangers of poor food hygiene and safety practices.

“Managers have a duty to put hygiene and safety at the heart of the company’s values to prevent getting into a serious situation in the first place, and damage as a result of hygiene issues reaches much further than a fine,” said Darren Seward, food and drink sector specialist at NFU Mutual. “Company reputation can be destroyed overnight, the directors responsible can be prosecuted, putting a fatal ending to their career in the industry, and most importantly, innocent lives could be put at serious risk of harm. Getting it right takes work but there is no excuse in the eyes of the law, or indeed the public.”

Separate analysis by NFU Mutual showed that there are currently over 10,000 organisations where food is supplied, sold or consumed across England, Wales and Northern Ireland with a food hygiene rating of 1 which denotes that ‘major improvement’ is necessary or 0 where ‘urgent improvement is required’. This amounts to just over 2% of total food hygiene rated organisations.

In Scotland, where a different scheme of ‘pass’ or ‘improvement required’ is used, just over 8% of organisations are requiring improvement.

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