Chicken pro­ces­sor sus­pends pro­duc­tion and re­trains staff

Undercover film shows poor hy­giene at ma­jor sup­plier to su­per­mar­kets

The Guardian Weekly - - Uk News - Si­mon Good­ley

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

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