Companies with turnovers of over £50M could be fined up to £20M for corporate manslaughter and up to £3M for breach of food safety regulations, according to the sentencing guidelines.
The rules, which also cover health and safety regulations, instruct judges to take a company’s turnover and financial circumstances into account when imposing fines.
Penalties for serious offending have been increased because in the past some offenders received fines that did not properly reflect their crimes, the Sentencing Council said.
‘Fair and proportionate’
Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk.
“These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”
The guidelines cover everything from E. coli outbreaks caused by unsafe food preparation to workplace injuries caused by manufacturers that do not provide training for operating machinery.
Other offences include placing unsafe food on the market, inadequate traceability and food recalls and misleading consumers through labelling and advertising, according to Eversheds law firm.
‘Culpability’ and ‘harm’
Eversheds head of food and drink David Young said: “The approach to sentencing is the same as the health and safety offences with the same concepts of ‘culpability’ and ‘harm’.
“For individuals there is an increased possibility of custodial sentences for offences involving ‘very high’ or ‘high’ culpability.”
Young said the list of mitigating factors now excludes evidence that the business has the correct procedures in place or took steps to remedy the problem.
“Therefore where a business may have fallen just short of establishing a due diligence defence; evidence of its systems and procedures will no longer be considered a mitigating feature,” he said.
Food Standards Agency director of regulatory and legal strategy Rod Ainsworth welcomed the guidelines which will ensure consistency in sentencing for food safety and hygiene offences.
“They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers,” Ainsworth said.
Penalties for companies with over £50M turnover
Food crime – up to £3M
Health and safety offences – up to £10M
Corporate manslaughter – up to £20M