EU court: Retailer liable for selling Salmonella-tainted meat
Court rules that even if the source of contamination occurred at earlier stage in the food chain, retailers have a responsibility to ensure food safety
The EU Court of Justice has concluded that retailers may be penalized if they sell fresh meat contaminated with Salmonella, even if the contamination occurred at an earlier stage in the food chain.
Ute Reindl, the manager of an Austrian branch of the supermarket chain MPREIS Warenvertriebs GmbH, was fined for failure to comply with food safety rules after a sample of vacuum packed fresh turkey breast, processed and packaged by another company, was found to be contaminated with Salmonella and was therefore ‘unfit for human consumption’ for the purposes of EU law, according to RTT News.
The Austrian authorities brought proceedings against the manager for failure to comply with food safety rules and ordered her to pay a fine. The case went to appeal and the Independent Administrative Chamber for the Land of Tyrol asked the EU Court of Justice about the extent of liability of food business operators where they are active only at the distribution stage.
In its judgment, the EU Court of Justice said that the fresh poultry meat referred to by EU law must satisfy the microbiological criteria for Salmonella at all the stages of distribution including the retail sale stage. The court further noted that the microbiological criterion applies to ‘products placed on the market during their shelf life.’ The concept of ‘products placed on the market’ refers to foodstuffs which are held for the purpose of sale, distribution or other forms of transfer, which thereby includes retail sale, according to a BPEX report.
The court stated that failure to ensure compliance with microbiological criterion at all stages of distribution (including the retail sale stage) would therefore amount to undermining one of the fundamental objectives of food safety legislation, i.e. to attain a high level of protection of human health.
The Court of Justice further stated that food business operators which are active only at the distribution stage may be fined for having placed on the market a foodstuff which fails to comply with the microbiological criterion.
The court considers that it is clear from EU food safety law that the member states must set penalties for infringements of food law, which are effective, proportionate and dissuasive; and that the system of fines put in place by Austrian law may help to attain the fundamental objective of protection of human health - although Austrian authorities must ensure that that system is proportional.