​Tesco Fined a Record £7.56 Million for Selling Out-of-Date Food.

​Tesco Fined a Record £7.56 Million for Selling Out-of-Date Food.

Posted by Stelios on 3rd Mar 2021

On 19 April 2021, Tesco Stores Limited faced a significant £7.56 million penalty at Birmingham Magistrates' Court for 22 instances of selling out-of-date food at three outlets between 2016 and 2017. This fine represents an unmatched figure in food safety-related proceedings and ranks among recent history's steepest safety regulatory penalties.

Tesco Supermarket in Ashford - panoramio Maxwell Hamilton, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Previously, the maximum fine for selling expired food items was set at £5,000 per incident until 2015. In this landmark case, the initial proposed penalty stood at a staggering £10 million for a single violation, marking a 200,000% surge within six years. Despite this, Tesco's UK revenue remained relatively steady, hovering around £50 billion. Had Tesco been categorised as a 'large' entity (with a turnover exceeding £50 million) instead of a 'very large' one (substantially more than £50 million in turnover), the proposed penalty would have been considerably lower at £90,000.

In comparison, Tesco was slapped with a £160,000 fine in September 2020 by Reading Magistrates' Court for similar violations. Other major retailers have faced penalties, like the Co-op's £40,000 fine in October 2020 and Waitrose's £33,350 fine in May 2019.

Several intriguing aspects of the case and the hefty fine are worth noting:

  • The judge highlighted that Tesco had previously been advised to review and update its protocols in 2015. However, the company prematurely asked a local authority to inspect one of its stores where expired food was found, a common misstep among businesses.
  • The judge commented that Tesco had taken a gamble with consumer safety. Despite the prosecution classifying the risk as moderate (Category 2) and acknowledging that proper cooking would mitigate severe health risks, the comparison to the dangerous game of "Russian Roulette" was stark.
  • The court emphasized that Tesco's reluctance to plead guilty early on and attempts to bypass prosecution aggravated the offence's severity. The judge criticized Tesco's defence as lacking in common sense and expressed dissatisfaction with the company's failure to take responsibility promptly.

Every case is unique and hinges on its specifics. However, businesses must be careful in their legal approach to avoid appearing to be evading justice, especially when vast fines are at stake.

The judge considered mitigating factors, such as Tesco's lack of prior convictions, the offences occurring at only three out of 2,900 stores, and their proactive measures to address the issues. Without these, the fine could have been up to 10% more. If Tesco had contested and lost at trial, the penalty might have surged by 30%.

The judge also emphasised the need for updated sentencing guidelines for ultra-large corporations and suggested the Sentencing Council introduce a revised framework, especially for multi-billion pound businesses.

It remains uncertain if Tesco will challenge the sentence. If they opt to appeal, it must be within 21 days post-sentencing.

The court aimed to send a clear message to the food industry and all regulated sectors: adherence to regulatory compliance is paramount. The scale of this fine will resonate not only within the food sector but also across all regulated industries.

Cover Image Source: Maxwell Hamilton, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons