Audits not full defence versus food safety damages

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Audits can be picked apart by prosecutors - pic copyright: iStock, Robyn Mackenzie
Audits can be picked apart by prosecutors - pic copyright: iStock, Robyn Mackenzie

Related tags Food

Regular audits don’t protect food firms at the centre of food safety incidents from facing substantial damages, David Young, Eversheds partner and head of its health and safety team, has warned.

Young told at the legal giant’s annual food and drink conference in London he had been involved in situations in which prosecutors had mercilessly exposed the weaknesses of audit procedures.

“What is the worst case scenario? The end point is when something goes seriously wrong and audits are picked apart by a prosecutor who will say they didn’t work and can’t have been adequate,”​ Young said.

They served a purpose as part of a wider defence, but should not be over-relied on, he said. “Audits are great, but make them focused and fit for purpose and not just a whole lot of tick boxes.

Due diligence

“You would expect an audit process to be part of a due diligence defence, but you can’t assume audits will not be challenged with the benefit of hindsight.”

Young highlighted the weakness of audits in a panel discussion addressing the subject of food fraud.

Asked if more robust auditing would help defend the food industry against food incidents such as the ‘horsegate’ scandal last year, he argued overall oversight of the food fraud strategy was a bigger issue.

“I would be shining my torch on leadership. Where are we now? The last update was the publication of the ​[Chris Elliott] report ​[into the integrity of food supply chains] in September​ and most people in this room know that it was ready a considerable amount of time before that.

“The nightmare proposition is something else happens and the finger is pointed to manufacturers and retailers with critics saying, ‘you were told two years ago …’”

In reality, it was not just down to the industry, but to everyone, including the government and other stakeholder groups, to maintain momentum to strengthen the food industry’s defences against fraudsters, he said.

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