Tesco fined £7.5m for selling out of date food

  • Nick Lowe is responsible for food safety at Birmingham City Council. 

Tesco has been fined £7.5m for selling out of date food at stores across Birmingham after inspectors found food past its 'use by' date at three stores.

Products included children's meals, meat slices, desserts, pasties and some soup - which should have been removed from the shelf 17 days earlier.

Today, Nick Lowe from Birmingham City Council, said that the fine sent a clear message that 'use by' dates are important and that, "you shouldn't play Russian roulette with people's safety."

At Birmingham Magistrate's Court, Birmingham City Council argued there was 'systematic failure.'

Tesco blamed 'human error' of individual staff and said these examples were isolated incidents. They argued the items were 'safe' and that the 'use by' date simply served a 'brand and quality' function.But, Tesco Stores Ltd admitted 22 charges under the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations.Tesco was fined £7,560,000 and ordered to pay £95,500 in prosecution costs as well as a £170 victim surcharge.

Passing sentence District Judge Shamim Qureshi said,

"Customers trust Tesco, and the other large supermarkets, in a way they might not trust small shops where they might check dates of foods before buying them. One might even say if you can’t trust Tesco with the food on display, who can you trust?"

The court case followed several complaints, including from a customer who bought an out of date pasta ready meal at Tesco Express on Linden Road, Bournville.

When the store invited inspectors back for a second visit, they actually found more out of date food than on their first visit; including a Tesco branded carrot and coriander soup which had gone out of date 17 days earlier.

Prosecutor Richard Barraclough QC stated Tesco had adequate policies and procedures in place, it just failed to implement them. He said,

"Tesco is a large corporation and should have the resources to ensure the effective implementation of the policies at local level. Whether the failures are a function of a shortage of staff, the requirement that staff multi-task or a question of priorities, including economic priorities is a matter for consideration."

Iain McDonald, defending Tesco, argued that 42 out of the 67 items were out of date by a single day and reiterated the supermarket's stance that all of the goods were 'safe'.He categorically denied the failures were down to staffing and stated the issues in all stores had since been rectified.

A Tesco spokesman added,

"We’re disappointed that a small number of out of date products were found on sale in three stores in 2016/17. The safety of our customers is always our priority and these incidents are not representative of the high standards of safety and quality we expect in Tesco stores."We took immediate action to address this at the time and we want to reassure our customers that we have robust procedures in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen."