EH officers involved in the recent prosecution where supermarket giant Tesco was fined £7.56m for selling products past their use-by date has said they can assist other local authorities looking to prosecute.
Tesco tried to avoid prosecution and appealed to the primary authority Hertfordshire County Council, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, and even went to the High Court last year.
While all of these moves by Tesco were lawful, wider concern has been raised that smaller local authorities may find it difficult to take on huge chains with deep pockets to pay legal fees, to pursue legitimate cases through multiple courts.
However, the Birmingham team that took the Tesco case has urged other EHPs and local authorities to take a collegiate approach and look to peer authorities, the Food Standards Agency and the National Food Crime Unit for assistance. And they also offered their guidance and assistance.
Head of environmental health Mark Croxford said: “Birmingham's happy to give advice to other authorities and to other EHOs on where they stand.
“If they want some help or some guidance or, just professional guidance between EH officers, we haven't got a problem with trying to help out on that. We can't take the prosecution for them, obviously, but we're more than happy to support other local authorities in their decision-making.”
The team said they felt “vindicated” by the judge, and thanked him for making a really “strong judgment” and spelling out the arguments in his summation. They feel their case has made it clear that selling food past its use-by dates is a strict offence, and it should be more straightforward for other local authorities taking these prosecutions forward.
The team also revealed that they have been in touch with other local authorities dealing with similar cases involving other retailers that had been put on hold until the Tesco ruling.
Nick Lowe, operations manager for food safety, said the ruling protected the consumer and upheld food safety law. “[Use-by-dates] are an indication of safety, that's why it's important that they are adhered to and certainly from a retailer point of view, you have nothing else to go on.
“The only evidence that you've got, as to the safety of that food if it is stored correctly, is the durability date – the use-by-date. So you should adhere to that.”
The team also commented on the role of the primary authority in assisting retailers to follow the law, and the implications of this case for councils who are PAs. Lowe added: “We are a primary authority, for a number of businesses, and for a number of high profile businesses.
“We would be letting the business down if we didn't robustly challenge the things that they were doing - if we didn't insist on implementation, and check on implementation, because this case has shown that you can be challenged through the secretary of state.
“So your advice has got to be robust. You've got to make sure that the company is following that advice. And if they are not, you've got to stand up and be counted and say, ‘I'm sorry, you're not following the advice’.
“The primary authority’s role is there to support correct implementation of the law, it's not there to protect the business if they're not following it.”
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