Tesco has been fined £7.56 million by a judge for selling out of date food at three of its stores in Birmingham.
The grocery giant was handed the penalty by a judge at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Monday and further ordered to pay prosecution costs of £95,500, Birmingham City Council said. It was also ordered to pay a £170 victim surcharge.
The fine was handed down after Tesco Stores Ltd admitted 22 breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations, which happened between 2016 and 2017.
Inspectors found goods past their ‘use by’ date at three stores and across a number of product lines including children’s meals, pork belly slices, Cadbury’s trifles, Ginsters pasties and soup which should have been removed from the shelf 17 days earlier.
It was revealed in the worst-hit store, in Bournville, staff missed more than 250 opportunities to remove the products.
Birmingham City Council argued there was ‘systematic failure’ throughout the supermarket giant while Tesco blamed ‘human error’ of individual staff and insisted the grim discoveries were isolated incidents.
They also argued the items were ‘safe’ and that the ‘use by’ date simply served a ‘brand and quality’ function.
But a district judge slammed the retailer saying customers would rightly be ‘disgusted’ if they bought mouldy food.
Fine was handed down after Tesco Stores Ltd admitted 22 breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations (stock)
Food inspectors visited three of the company’s city food retail premises, in all.
Offending items were discovered at two Tesco Express stores, one in the city centre and the other in Birmingham’s Bournville area, as well as a Tesco Metro which has since been re-branded under Tesco’s discount chain, Jack’s.
Tesco said it was ‘disappointed’ that out-of-date products got onto the shelves adding it took ‘immediate action’ to rectify the problems, while adding it had ‘robust procedures’ in place to ensure there is no repeat.
Date-checking at the grocer’s stores is now externally approved by Hertfordshire County Council because the company’s Welwyn Garden City head office is located in that local authority’s area.
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?’
Concerns arose around the Tesco Express at Bournville after a customer made a complaint in June 2015 that they had bought an out of date pasta ready meal.
Environmental health officers attended later in the month and found half a dozen expired items.
The council issued Tesco with a report and demands to retrain staff and ensure out of date food was not displayed.
In what the judge described as an ‘own goal’ the supermarket invited officers back to the outlet.
But when they returned on April 12, 2016, they discovered 29 goods across eight different product lines past their use by date.
Among the items were Pizza Express branded pizzas, own-branded pork slices, and Cadbury’s trifles.
The worst offender was a Tesco branded carrot and coriander soup which went out of date 17 days earlier.
In May 2017 the council received a complaint from a member of the public who had bought an out of date Chinese coated chicken from the Tesco Metro in Rubery, which has since been converted into one of the chain’s Jack’s discount stores.
Officers carried out an inspection on June 1 that year and found 25 expired items.
They included Ginsters Cornish pasties, Tesco scotch eggs and Little Dish children’s meals.
The following day, officers carrying out a scheduled visit at the Express store at Carr’s Lane, in the city centre, found 13 expired products, all of which were own-branded including a pack of grapes and strawberries showing signs of mould.
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.
Mr McDonald said: ‘It is suggested it is a systematic problem. But it is more appropriate to treat these as isolated incidents in these stores.’
He added: ‘Tesco takes the issue of food safety extremely seriously and has procedures designed to ensure no out of date products are on sale. Tesco would like to apologise for the failures in this case.’
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.’