Businesses serving food that fail to comply with food safety and hygiene laws could face a fine of 700% of their weekly income or 18 months in prison, under new proposals from the Sentencing Council.

The guidelines also suggest that ‘micro’ companies that turn over less than £2m a year could be forced to pay £120,000 for the most serious food hygiene breaches, while small businesses (£2m-£10m turnover) could be fined up to £450,000.

The proposals, which define a new maximum fine band of 500-700% of an individual offender’s weekly income, are outlined in a consultation launched today on health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offence.

Food offences include poor hygiene standards in kitchens, failure to properly prepare food, and poisoning.

The offences are expressed in terms of contravening or failing to comply with specified community provisions, which include informing customers when there has been a breach of food safety requirements, requiring food businesses to keep paperwork that would enable regulators to identify the origin or producer of a food product, and ensuring that consumers are not misled by the labelling, advertising or preparation of food.

Currently the maximum fine magistrates can impose for these offences is £20,000, while the Crown Court has the power to issue a fine of any amount or up to a two-year custodial sentence.

The consultation document states that in 2013, approximately 220 individuals and 60 organisations were sentenced for food safety and hygiene offences.

The Sentencing Council said that nearly all cases involving food offences were heard in magistrates courts and custodial sentences were very rare and, if imposed, usually suspended.

The consultation also suggests new guidelines for health and safety offences. It proposes maximum fines of £450,000 for micro businesses, £1.6m for small businesses and 2 years’ imprisonment for individuals.

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that maintain proper standards and do their best to keep people safe.

“Our proposals will help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing, allowing fair and proportionate sentences across the board, with some of the most serious offenders facing tougher penalties.

“This is a consultation: we are interested in hearing feedback on our proposals so we can develop sentences which people understand and have confidence in.”

The consultation will run until 18 February 2015. View the consultation here

Proposed sentencing guidelines for food safety and hygiene offenders - individuals

Adverse effect on human healthStarting point (fine/custody)Category range (fine/custody)

Deliberate

 

 

Serious adverse effect

9 months’ custody

Fine of 500-700% of offender’s weekly income – 18 months’ custody

Adverse effect or high risk of adverse effect

500-700% of weekly income

300-500% of weekly income – 9 months’ custody

Medium or low risk of an adverse effect

300-500% of weekly income

250% of weekly income – 26 weeks’ custody

Reckless

 

 

Serious adverse effect

500-700% of weekly income

300-500% of weekly income – 9 months’ custody

Adverse effect / high risk

300-500% of weekly income

250% of weekly income – 26 weeks’ custody

Medium / low risk

250% of weekly income

150-500% of weekly income

Negligent

 

 

Serious adverse effect

300-500% of weekly income

250-700% of  weekly income

Adverse effect / high risk

250% of weekly income

150-500% of weekly income

Medium / low risk

150% of weekly income

100-150% of weekly income

Low culpability

 

 

Serious adverse effect

150% of weekly income

100-150% of weekly income

Adverse effect / high risk

100% of weekly income

50-100% of weekly income

Medium / low risk

50% of weekly income

Conditional discharge – 50% of weekly income