A UK-wide review of meat cutting plants and cold stores has just been announced by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS).
The agencies revealed the decision today (February 1). The move came as a direct result of serious non-compliance issues identified at cutting plants operated by 2 Sisters Food Group and Russell Hume and would be industry-wide, they said.
“In the last six months the FSA and FSS have faced two serious incidents involving major players in the meat sector,” said FSA chair Heather Hancock. “People rightly expect food businesses to keep to the rules, rules designed to keep consumers safe and to sustain public trust in food – and food businesses have a duty to follow the regulations.
“In the light of these recent incidents, the FSA and FSS will be taking forward reviews of cutting plants and cold stores used for meat. Further details will be published later this month and the results will be fully available to the public.”
The FSA’s investigation into activities at Russell Hume continues and the areas of interest for the investigation include the extended use of use-by dates and the business’ food safety management system. The agency aims to grill employees at the company in the coming days.
FSA chief executive Jason Feeney said: “Our investigation into the major non-compliances we found at the Russell Hume plants in England and Scotland is intensifying.
“We have already stopped these plants producing meat products, have ensured the withdrawal and disposal of the products and now we are looking at the root cause of the incident and any culpability.
“The investigation is looking into all aspects of the business to establish more details about the serious and widespread problems that we identified. This will then determine whether additional enforcement action should be taken. Therefore we will be unable to make any further comments on the detail of the investigation.
“It remains the case that there is no indication that people have become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume and we continue to assess the situation working with the relevant public health bodies.”
The announcement came as the continued probe at Russell Hume revealed the potentially unhygienic meat had entered the international supply chain and been sold to Cyprus, among other countries.
Food Manufacture sister site GlobalMeatNews reported an FSA spokesperson saying: “There has been a distribution to Cyprus and, as a result, a notification was issued to authorities there last week.” The quantity of frozen meat sold and the identity of the importer remain unknown at this stage.
An unannounced FSA inspection on January 24 uncovered “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations”. Meat supplied by Russell Hume was subsequently pulled from the menus of pub chain JD Wetherspoon and Jamie’s Italian, it emerged.
The FSA has referred to the situation as a “systemic and widespread problem”.
Hygiene failings at 2 Sisters’ chicken processing site at West Bromwich, highlighted by undercover reporting on behalf of The Guardian and ITV News, prompted an Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee hearing in October. 2 Sisters’ boss Ranjit Singh Boparan was grilled at the hearing.
Commenting on the committee’s subsequent report, issued in November, EFRA chair Neil Parish said: “Our enquiry should serve as a wake-up call for all accreditation firms and cause them to improve their processes and remove any loopholes that may exist, not just those discovered through our enquiry.”
The report raised concerns about the ease with which companies generally could “game the system and hide infractions – by opting out of the unannounced audits by the accreditors, for example”.
For its part, 2 Sisters published poultry audit and inspection data in December and has expressed its willingness to cooperate fully with the FSA.