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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EU Markets Responsible for Bad Food, Says Court

(CN) - EU supermarkets caught selling salmonella-laced poultry can be fined for food-safety violations - regardless of whether the stores packaged the product themselves or got it from a distributor, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.

The ruling stems from a case brought by an Austrian supermarket manager who had been fined for violating food safety rules after inspectors discovered salmonella in a sample of vacuum-packed fresh turkey breast processed by another company.

An administrative court hearing the manager's appeal asked the EU high court the extent to which stores can be held liable for food safety violations in products they did not package or process themselves.

In a judgment issued Thursday, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said that EU law requires that fresh poultry meat satisfy microbiological criteria for salmonella at all stages of distribution -- including at retail stores.

"The regulation expressly provides that the criterion is to apply to 'products placed on the market during their shelf life'" at all points along the products' distribution route, from slaughterhouse to store, the court wrote.

"Moreover, if there was no requirement for fresh poultry meat to comply with the microbiological criterion defined in EU food safety law at all stages of distribution, one of the fundamental objectives of food law would be undermined if foodstuffs containing microorganisms in quantities which present an unacceptable risk to human health were placed on the market," the court added.

And while EU law does not set penalties for retailers who violate food-safety rules, the court urged member states to enact their own sanctions scheme in order to deter stores from selling dirty goods - as Austria has done.

Whether the fines levied against the Austrian supermarket manager are disproportionate or excessive is for the referring court to decide, the EU court concluded.

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