First food prosecutions database released by FSA

Around £500,000 in fines for food hygiene, standards and safety offences has been handed down since 1 April, according to a new database of prosecutions.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published a database listing 419 prosecutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of a drive to help EHOs pursue legal action and identify repeat offenders.

The highest fine on the record went to Belfast restaurant Flicks, which was the site of the largest ever E. coli outbreak in Northern Ireland in 2012.

The restaurant was fined £100,000 afterat least 141 people we made ill, with 19 admitted to hospital.

Another large fine of £65,000 went to Eclipse Hotels(Bristol) Ltd, trading as Holiday Inn, after a number of food hygiene incidents that led to three people being hospitalised.

The data is supplied voluntarily by local authorities, and covers prosecutions from 1 April onwards. So far 56 have responded and the FSA is urging more councils to get involved.

In just over a quarter of cases businesses were prosecuted for hygiene offences, including failing to keep either premises or equipment clean.

Other common food law breaches included unfit food on premises, lack of hand washing facilities and food safety training and poor pest control.

But records for fines for individuals or businesses in England and Wales will be only kept for a year after the sentencing date, and five years in Northern Ireland. Records for tougher sentences including prison terms will be kept for longer depending on the seriousness of the offence.

The FSA said this was to comply with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Implementation of the act varies for the devolved UK administrations.

A spokesperson said: ‘EHOs can use the data to spot patterns of non-compliance by a food business operator. Local authorities may also join forces when they see what offences have been prosecuted.

‘We are committed to this, and as more councils get involved the data will be more robust.’

Rod Ainsworth, FSA director of regulatory and legal strategy, said the information would allow local authorities to share intelligence and ‘get a better understanding of where and how food hygiene and safety breaches occur’.

‘This information will also be useful to consumers and businesses when choosing suppliers,’ he added.

‘Like our Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, we want the prosecutions database to empower consumers and businesses alike to vote with their feet and avoid those that are not following rules.’

Jenny Morris, CIEH principal policy officer, said establishing a central register of convictions was one of the recommendations of the Elliott review.

She added: ‘EHOs have been asking for this for some time, so it’s very welcome. It will be especially valuable when the Sentencing Guidelines come into force next year as a key consideration will be the “prosecution history” of a business.’

Ms Morris said the database would prompt businesses to improve compliance in order to protect their brands. She added it would assist in building intelligence to inform local authority enforcement, help courts with sentencing and inform consumers about food outlet standards.

Reference: http://www.ehn-online.com/news/

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