During 2013, 143 food law enforcement notices were served by the Irish regulators. This represents a 31% increase on the number of notices served in 2012. At 7May 2014, the authorities had already served 35 enforcement notices on Irish food businesses (28 closure orders and 7 prohibition orders).
This year four prosecutions have come to court for offences contrary to legislation governing food hygiene and food safety. Fines of up to €15,000.00 have been imposed and the court has directed that a term of imprisonment will be served if fines are not paid by the specified date. In each case the convicted food business operator was ordered to pay the costs of bringing the prosecution which in the majority of cases exceeded €2,000.00.
Food businesses subjected to enforcement action have included restaurants and take-aways, grocery stores, butchers, distribution centres and fish processing establishments. The majority of establishments affected have been small local food businesses although at least one well-known large restaurant in Dublin was closed due to food safety concerns. It is often possible to undertake remedial works and have the closure order lifted within a day or two but this will have been a costly exercise in terms of financial outlay, diverting resources from running the business and adverse publicity (enforcement action is recorded on the FSAI website and it is often the subject of local and national news items and comment on social media).
Food business of all sizes must take steps to become and remain compliant with their obligations to produce and serve safe and wholesome food which has been prepared in hygienic conditions.
The regulatory burden will only increase with the introduction, in December 2014, of the Provision of Food Information to Consumers Regulation. This will significantly affect the way in which information about food is provided to consumers. The legislation imposes legal duties in respect of packaged and non-packaged foods and will require all food business operators to fully understand the implications of the new law for them and their businesses.
We provide efficient, effective advice at a reasonable cost to food business on general compliance matters and whenever they are facing enforcement action or prosecution.
Ian Thomas is an Irish solicitor and he is a barrister in England (www.6pumpcourt.co.uk). He can assist food businesses on matters of law and procedure in Ireland and in England.
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