The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has clarified when food suppliers, rather than the producer, can be held responsible for damages caused by defective products.

Its advice came in a Danish case involving two consumers suing food retail chain Bilka after contracting salmonella from eggs. Bilka in turn sued producer Skov.

The Danish government, backing Skov, argued that for cases of no-fault liability, where food poisoning occurred despite good practice throughout the supply chain, a producer could pass on liability to a supplier.

The Danes said this was because directive 85/374/EEC on liability for defective products said its terms should not limit complainant’s contractual rights.

The ECJ has rejected this, however, pointing to a clause stating: “The supplier (should) be liable only in the case where the producer cannot be identified”. Where a producer or supplier had been responsible for poisoning, however, the ECJ found the directive allows suppliers to be “answerable without restriction for the producer’s fault-based liability”.