Supermarket giant Co-operative Food has pleaded guilty to stocking food as much as 10 days past its use-by date at a Pangbourne store.
Representatives of the former Somerfield store at The Square, Pangbourne, were at West Berkshire Magistrate’s Court on April 21.
The group, now owned by the Co-op, pleaded guilty to contravening food safety requirements.
The offence related to an unannounced inspection in March, which found a number of food items on the market that were unsafe as use-by dates had expired.
Prosecuting, Sarah Clarke of West Berkshire Council’s legal services, said: “Officers identified 10 items of food that were past their use-by-date.”
She said that two of the items – both soups – were 10 days past the maximum date when they could be safely eaten, and one other was five days out of date.
The court heard that the Co-op has in place procedures and training to identify and check foods that are at the end of their life.
However, when trading standards investigated they found that certain procedures had not been followed, including a crucial close of business check.
Ms Clarke said: “The COB check hadn’t been completed on any day during that week.
“Store colleagues should have completed processes in line with procedures and staff should have raised this to the manager.”
She added: “This is not a case where the defendant had a blatant disregard for food safety. Systems were in place.
“But the number of items found in the inspection below their use-by date is a further indication that this was not a one-off.
“The food products were deemed to be unsafe and they may have had an adverse effect on individuals if used.
“This is noted in the defendant’s own training manual.”
She warned that the level of harm could have been great if the items had been purchased and then consumed by the elderly.
The court went on to hear that, after the incident, internal audits were conducted at the store and the manager, James Lee, has since left the business.
Defending, Richard Banwell said: “As far as culpability is concerned, first of all the group provides induction and ongoing training to all staff.
“It is not for want of procedures or lack of training.”
He added: “This company has comprehensive systems and policies in place, but unfortunately there will be a need for store managers to do their job properly.
“There had been no complaints from this store in the six months before the incident occurred.”
He called the incident a case of “human error” and argued it was in the low-range penalty bracket.
The case was ultimately sent to crown court for sentencing as the magistrates felt their powers were insufficient for an appropriate sentence.
Sentencing will be made at Reading Crown Court at an undetermined date.