Chicken processor suspends production and retrains staff
Undercover film shows poor hygiene at major supplier to supermarkets
Britain’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken last Sunday suspended production at one of its main processing plants after undercover filming revealed poor hygiene standards and food safety records being altered.
The temporary closure by 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG), which was this week putting employees at the plant through a retraining programme, came as Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, joined a boycott of the poultry group’s West Midlands plant in the wake of a joint undercover investigation by the Guardian and ITV News.
A spokesman for 2SFG, which supplies a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK, said: “We are shocked and distressed by the allegations and the footage, which we saw for the first time on Thursday 28 September. Since the allegations were put to us by the Guardian/ITV, we have been working around the clock to get to the truth of the matter.
“The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been in daily attendance since the allegations were raised and confirmed that it has not identified any breaches. However, our internal investigation has shown some isolated instances of non-compliance with our own quality management systems.
“We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend operations at the site to allow us the time to retrain all colleagues, including management, in all food safety and quality management systems.”
The Guardian and ITV released undercover footage last Thursday showing an instance of 2 Sisters workers altering the source and slaughter date of poultry being processed in the firm’s Site D plant. Experts said altering “kill dates” could artificially stretch the commercial life of the meat and dupe consumers into buying chicken past its use-by date. It is illegal to place incorrect use-by dates on food, which are set for safety reasons and differ from “best before” dates.
Other sections of the footage showed chicken being picked off the floor and thrown back on to the production line, and older poultry being mixed with fresher birds.
A Tesco spokesperson added: “We’d like to reassure customers our initial investigation supported the Food Standards Agency’s findings that there was no current evidence of breach of food safety procedures. However, there have been isolated incidents where food quality procedures have not been followed and therefore, in agreement with 2 Sisters, we have decided to suspend all orders from Site D so that staff can receive further training. We will not be taking any more chicken from the site until this has been addressed and all processes are carried out to the highest standard.”
Tesco’s move emerged after the retailer initially resisted halting supplies from 2 Sisters Food Group’s West Bromwich site, despite four rivals suspending deliveries from the plant.
Instead, Tesco placed inspectors inside the West Midlands facility in order to oversee the chicken processor’s production team. But the grocer reversed that stance last Sunday evening.
Last Friday Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl all announced they had suspended deliveries from the 2 Sisters plant, while Sainsbury’s followed suit a day later. M&S said the footage showed “unacceptable” standards and also pulled chicken sourced from the plant from its shelves.
All five grocers supplied with chicken from the plant quickly announced their own investigations, as did the Food Standards Agency, which had conducted nine audits at the site – five of which were unannounced – in the months of July and August. The regulator has urged “anyone with information for this investigation” to make contact.
The chairman of parliament’s environment, food and rural affairs committee, Neil Parish, said last Friday he was preparing to call 2 Sisters owner and founder, Ranjit Singh Boparan, to Westminster to answer questions about the scandal.
2 Sisters Food Group, co-owned by Ranjit’s wife Baljinder Kaur Boparan, is the UK’s second-largest food company by turnover and claims to process around 6m chickens every week. The chicken operations – including 12 UK sites – are part of a £3bn ($4bn) food empire.
The company added that its staff “will remain on full pay and will attend the site” while the company overhauls its procedures and that operations will only recommence once the firm is satisfied its staff have been properly retrained.
“We continue to work closely with the FSA and our customers throughout this period. We remain committed to ensuring that we operate to the highest standards of hygiene and food safety, and we act with honesty and integrity at all times,” the company said.
Broken chain … footage showed workers altering source and slaughter dates