May 4th, 2021
5 mins

Tesco Stores Limited has pleaded guilty to selling food past its ‘use by’ date, resulting in a fine of £7.6million.

Out-of-date items were found on sale at two Tesco Express stores and at a Tesco Metro during checks by inspectors.

During the inspections, they found:

  • Products including pizza, doughballs, soup, pork belly slices, potato salad, trifle and flavoured milk between one and 17 days out of date at the Bournville store in April 2016
  • Scotch eggs, quiche Lorraine, Little Dish children’s meals, chicken and veg risotto and pasta bolognaise were among 25 items out-of-date at the Bristol Road South shop in June 2017
  • Falafel and houmous wraps, grapes and strawberries, and berry medley pots on display past their ‘use by’ date at the Carrs Lane store the same month, with grapes having visible mould.

The judge was particularly scathing about evidence from Dr Slim Dinsdale, a leading food microbiologist called by Tesco’s lawyers. He claimed the food involved was still perfectly safe to eat, arguing some of the food didn’t even need a use-by date.

The judge said: “Dr Dinsdale for the defence analysed identical food items as the original ones were destroyed. He checked the bacteria and thought the levels were fine and rendered the food safe to eat. He would be happy to eat them. He even compared the cotton-like mould on grapes to the mould in blue cheese. He is completely at odds with the feeling of disgust that any ordinary member of the public would have on seeing the mould on grapes. If I am wrong… then perhaps someone might pioneer a new market amongst the public for mouldy grapes to be eaten with mouldy cheese, mouldy biscuits and pungent wine.

“Since 2014 the law has been absolutely clear that food cannot be sold after the use-by date,” added the judge. “It was crystal clear, but Tesco tried to make it confusing… this needs to be said to Tesco and others in case people want to find ways to avoid complying with the food safety laws.

“If the Tesco defence was a valid one, no one would ever plead guilty to selling an item after the use-by date and they would shop around to find a scientist to say it is still safe to eat. If Tesco had succeeded with this implausible defence about unsafe foods, then the game of Russian roulette can be described as a safe one.

“The public,” he added, “will not be left with any confidence that Tesco takes the legislation seriously.”

Mr Simpson, who runs food safety consultancy Five Star Food Safety in Bristol, said the high fine was given to “warn other retailers”.

Tesco said it took “immediate action” to prevent it from happening again. “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,” a spokesman added.


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