Stories about food safety, or more accurately about unsafe food or other breaches of food safety and hygiene regulations, are a regular feature in the press. The UK has seen a number of such cases in recent years, with the horsemeat scandal being one of the most high profile.

A cautionary tale (or is that tail?)

A story from China being reported in a number of news outlets today, however, serves as a reminder that whilst the UK has, comparatively, an excellent record in food safety, with a robust regulatory regime, the consequences of even an isolated event can be significant. This is especially the case given the prevalence of social media and the propensity for such stories to "go viral".

A number of news outlets including the BBC and The Telegraph have been reporting on the case of a popular chain of restaurants in China, Xiabu Xiabu, which has seen £145 million wiped from its value after a pregnant woman found a dead rat in her soup.

According to the BBC, shares in Xiabu Xiabu have now reached their lowest level in almost a year after photos and videos were widely shared online, particularly on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The particular outlet where the incident occurred has been temporarily closed. Local authorities have announced their intention to conduct an investigation.

The food safety regime in the UK

The Food Standards Agency (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Food Standards Scotland are responsible in their respective jurisdictions for making sure food is safe, and is what it says it is. The legislative framework within which this is done is very complex; Food Standards Scotland's guidance document to the legislation which governs food and feed safety in Scotland is 188 pages long.

Suffice to say, in general the regulatory regime is viewed as working well - incidents involving dead animals being found in food in restaurants in the UK are, thankfully, few and far between. That said, given the harm which can be done to a business both in financial and reputational terms, those operating food businesses would be wise to ensure they never rest on their laurels where safety is concerned.


Fiona Chute

Senior Associate