Plans to impose tougher penalties on food businesses infested with pests must be strictly enforced, a national trade body with expertise in this subject has argued.
Any company found guilty of hygiene offences could now face much bigger fines or even jail terms following the introduction of new sentencing guidelines which came into force this week.
The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) hopes the move will ensure catering companies take their responsibility for pest control seriously. But it insists stronger punishments will only act as a greater deterrent if they’re imposed across the board on a regular basis.
The BPCA says catering companies which ignore pest management are putting the lives of their customers at risk.
Simon Forrester, chief executive of the BPCA, said: “The laws governing food hygiene make business owners fully responsible for pest control at their premises. Those who ignore it and end up with infestations on their sites should be made to pay the price.
“Sentencing in recent years doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact as harsh penalties have rarely been imposed. So while we welcome the move to introduce tougher punishments to those who flout food safety laws, it must be strictly applied and on a uniform basis.
“Pest management is a primary obligation for owners of every type of food business and we hope the prospect of bigger fines, or even jail in extreme cases, will ensure the subject is now at the top of their agenda.”
The new guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council, cover a multitude of food safety and hygiene offences.
Penalties for businesses discovered to have pest infestations will be assessed on a sliding scale depending on a number of factors including the harm it has caused, the potential impact and how far owners have fallen short of expected standards.
Katharine Vickery, a partner and leading food lawyer at Eversheds LLP, said the guidelines represent a shift in the regulatory landscape for owners of businesses.
She said: “Food safety can be a matter of life and death and it’s important as that because serious pest infestations put the public at risk. Food safety offences have not been viewed in the same way as other regulatory offences in the past, but these changes reflect the fact they need to be taken more seriously.
“The guidelines now direct courts to impose levels of fines based on the turnover of the business, how blameworthy the business is and the extent of the harm, so the fines imposed should be significantly higher than those currently handed down.
“Very small businesses could now be fined thousands of pounds, rather than hundreds, and larger businesses could be forced to pay millions in serious cases. When individuals are prosecuted, there is also a greater chance of custodial sentences being imposed for serious cases.”
The BPCA says catering companies must be made to realise the importance of pest management and the potential impact of ignoring it, both on their customers and their business.
Forrester added: “These companies have a responsibility to ensure proper food and hygiene safety procedures are in place and pest management is a key part of that. Business owners often shy away from employing a professional pest control company – claiming they have no problems or citing issues with the cost.
“But the new guidelines should mean that ignoring pest management could cost them a lot more in the long run. Those with potential issues should act quickly while those who claim to have no problems at the moment would be well-advised to ensure their premises are surveyed and proofed.”