If you work in the hospitality industry, you will be in no doubt that it is one of the most heavily regulated business sectors. But do you know what the consequences are for your business and its employees if there is a breach of food safety rules?
Food hygiene is paramount and failure to ensure it could mean a wide-ranging and expensive investigation, a tape recorded interview under caution, a prosecution in the criminal courts, and the inherent ramifications of a conviction.
Who Enforces the Law?
There are a number of regulatory bodies that enforce food safety legislation in England and Wales. Predominantly, it is the Environmental Health Departments of local authorities who inspect to ensure compliance and take enforcement action where they think it is appropriate. However, the Meat Standards Agency and the Food Standards Agency can bring prosecutions, and there are other bodies who may also become involved in food safety investigations (such as the Health Protection Agency).
What are the Consequences of Non-Compliance?
The ramifications for your business (or one of its employees) if there is a breach of food safety duties include:
- Investigation by the relevant regulators using criminal powers, to include powers of arrest.
- Being asked questions in a tape recorded interview under caution at the regulator’s premises.
- Prosecution in the Criminal Courts. If convicted, this could mean having to pay a fine (or even imprisonment for individuals), being ordered to pay a contribution towards the costs of being prosecuted, and being disqualified to act as a director for up to 15 years.
- Adverse publicity associated with any prosecution, which could include the matter being reported in the local papers.
- Being served with a statutory notice requiring certain steps to be taken within a stipulated period. Failure to comply with a statutory notice is a separate offence which can be prosecuted.
- Criminal convictions have further wide-ranging ramifications for businesses and individuals. Individuals may encounter problems travelling abroad when declaring the fact they have a criminal conviction and may even be refused entry.
What Should Your Business be Doing?
To avoid being the subject of enforcement action, your business should ensure it has robust food safety standards and procedures in place. It can do this by: Reviewing its existing systems and procedures to ensure they are compliant; Monitoring its systems and procedures to ensure ongoing compliance; Keeping up to date with legal developments, and amending its systems and procedures accordingly; Ensuring that its employees are fully trained in its procedures, and documenting the training regime; Establish and maintaining a good working relationship with regulators; Ensuring you have access to expert legal advice in respect of complying with your food safety duties, and also to protect the business and its employees if there is an investigation by a regulator.
Rod Hunt is a partner in the regulatory team at law firm Halliwells - 0161 618 5357 or firstname.lastname@example.org