The Food Standards Agency has admitted that 2 Sisters Food Group staff did breach hygiene rules in their handling of chicken – as claimed in a recent Guardian newspaper article – but says it is satisfied corrective action has been taken.
The original Guardian article in July made a number of allegations about factory practices, including that chicken was returned from the floor to the human food chain.
This prompted the FSA, and a number of supermarkets, to launch a full safety audit of the firm’s Scunthorpe and Llanelli plants – which it did on 25 July. A few days later it cleared both as “good” and “generally satisfactory”.
But in a subsequent statement, released on Wednesday (13 August), the FSA has confirmed that it has carried out a further review of The Guardian’s undercover footage, showing a chicken being picked off the floor and returned to a blue bin.
“We have reviewed the footage in the light of information we have gathered about the business’ procedures for dealing with such events,” it said. “The conclusion of a review visit was that the examples in the video did provide evidence of failure to follow the plant’s own procedures and so constituted a breach of hygiene regulations.
“We are satisfied that corrective actions have been taken by the company and it is our view that no formal enforcement action is appropriate.”
The Guardian has accused the FSA of “an embarrassing climb down” . It also quotes Labour shadow food and farming minister, Huw Irranca-Davies as questioning the government’s apparent inaction.
“Consumers rightly demand that the meat they buy is of good quality and has been processed safely in line with the law. They will wonder why no enforcement action has been taken when breaches of hygiene regulations have occurred,” he told the newspaper.
But in a statement, 2 Sisters said there were no legal compliance issues, and it welcomed the FSA’s findings.
It added that it encouraged staff to notify management if they felt procedures were not being adhered to, and offered a confidential “speak-up line”, for anyone who wanted to raise concerns anonymously.
2 Sisters also dismissed claims by The Guardian that line speeds were slowed and hygiene procedures stepped up when there was an audit going on. “Audits cannot be cheated,” it said. “When a customer, official body or auditor arrives at the site, they dictate the flow of the audit, both in terms of scope and how they approach the factory.”
It added that the Scunthorpe site had been subject to 35 announced and six unannounced audits so far this year. “This equates to one audit every five days.”
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