A MULTI-MILLION pound packing company has been fined almost £50,000 for flouting egg regulations.

Inspectors found dented, dirty and cracked eggs in batches destined for supermarkets Tesco and Sainsbury's when they visited Noble Foods’ Standlake plant, near Witney, between July 2019 and March 2020.

Lawyers for Noble Foods said a ‘perfect storm’ of factors had affected its packing Oxfordshire plant in mid-2019. They included issues with machinery at the state-of-the-art factory, which opened in 2014, and problems with some farms supplying the company.

But Bernard Thorogood, for Noble Foods, emphasised that the eggs posed no risk to public health. The company admitted nine breaches of egg marketing regulations.

Fining the company £47,700 at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, District Judge Kamlesh Rana said: “It is very clear to me and I want to reiterate; this is not a case where the offences gave rise to any risk to public health. The regulations are clearly in place to protect the integrity of the market.”

The regulations were also there to assure consumers they were getting the quality eggs for which they’d paid, she added.

Prosecuting, William Dean said there had been ongoing quality issues with eggs at the Standlake plant since 2019.

Over 12 visits by Government inspectors between July 2019 and March 2020, 62 batches of eggs were inspected and breaches of the egg marketing regulations were found with 28 batches.

They included eggs that were cracked, dented, dirty, washed in contravention of the regulations, had folds in their shells or air cells that meant they could not be sold as Class A eggs.

Noble Foods' Standlake plant Picture: GOOGLE

Mr Dean said inspectors had tried to work with the company to make improvements but the ‘failures continued’. It would have been reasonable to expect improvements to have been made sooner, he added.

Mitigating, Mr Thorogood outlined the extensive efforts the firm had made to address the issues, which were confined to the large eggs.

Noble Foods, which has a turnover of more than £300m, brought in engineers from the equipment’s manufacturer and overhauled the machinery at the plant. They spent millions on refurbishment of equipment and quality control each year.

The barrister said: “They had in place proper systems for avoiding the offence. It is very clear that negligent this company was not.”

One of the directors had willingly offered to be interviewed by the Government inspectors, which was not common in such cases. The company had an extensive corporate social responsibility programme and had no previous convictions in its 100 year history.

Mr Thorogood asked the judge: “I urge you to find this is a company with a genuine passion to do the right thing.”

Passing sentence, District Judge Rana noted the mitigation but said there had been a lack of communication by Noble Foods with Defra about the difficulties they faced and what they were doing to address it.

“This is a company which is a market leader in its field. It has substantial resources available to it to remedy the issues in a more proactive and efficient way,” she said.

Noble Foods admitted nine counts of failing to comply with regulation nine of the Eggs and Chicks (England) Regulations. The firm must pay £160 in costs and a £181 victim surcharge.

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