A recently publicised case in Teesside reminds us once again that Trading Standards Officers do actively police the issue of how well operators are storing their spirits.
In that case the operator had to pay in excess of £4,000 in fine and costs following pleas of guilty to offences under the Food Safety Act, which requires that any food items sold (including alcohol) is of the nature, substance and quality required. The suggestion here seems to be that there was the presence of a quantity of water within the spirits in question.
Prosecutions such as these can be used in cases where there has been deliberate watering down of any product. That is obviously pretty serious on the basis that there is an intention to deceive customers.
The issue can also arise in circumstances where there is no deliberate watering down but rather just poor systems of storage. Leaving bottles open to the elements at the end of service, either with or without a free pourer in the bottle can lead to combinations of condensation and evaporation which can adversely affect the ABV. Equally, if the pourers are washed and then are placed into the bottles wet then over a period of time the product in question will gradually become watered down. Obviously, products most at risk are ‘slow moving’ ones. High turnover house spirits are unlikely to be affected by such conditions to any meaningful degree.
The law does require operators to exercise all due diligence to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. That means having a strong company policy, a good system of training and perhaps some auditing as well as a double checking mechanism to make sure that all spirits are in pristine condition.
In the alternative, fines can be much higher than those reported from Teesside with the accompanying damage to reputation.
We believe the law to be correct at the time of publishing this article. Interpretations of the law change very rapidly and it is always advisable to check with us before taking any major step. Graeme Cushion, Licensing Solicitor at Poppleston Allen. www.popall.co.uk
Graeme is a partner with Poppleston Allen and has many years experience in Liquor and Entertainment Licensing and criminal law. Graeme specialises for the firm in criminal and regulatory crime ancillary to licensing. This involves crimes related to serving alcohol (underage sales and drunkenness), Health and Safety, Food Safety and Disability Discrimination.