Meat firms to face ‘major review’ following industry scandals

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Looking ahead: the review includes plans to install CCTV at meat processing plants
Looking ahead: the review includes plans to install CCTV at meat processing plants

Related tags: Meat, Food standards agency

A nationwide review has revealed a need for CCTV to be installed in meat-cutting plants across the UK.

The decision follows an investigation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) into meat supplier Russell Hume, which previously served its products to pub companies, including JD Wetherspoon.

The supplier was visited by the FSA for an unannounced inspection of its Birmingham site on 12 January where it became concerned that the company was allegedly breaching hygiene regulations.

This led the body and Food Standards Scotland to investigate all Russell Hume site and other locations where its products are stored in England, Scotland and Wales.

The FSA has said that, based on the evidence it gathered, it became concerned there was a more systemic and widespread problem, which was more serious in terms of its scale and nature.

It added that it was only at this stage, issues of non-compliance were uncovered. These related to a number of issues, including concerns about procedures and processes around use-by dates.

However, it stated there was no indication that people had become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume.

Since the incident, Russell Hume has gone into administration​​ and blamed the FSA, claiming its action was “out of proportion to concerns identified”.

The watchdog responded to the supplier's claims and said it took “proportionate action based on serious and widespread problems” found at the supplier’s premises involving stopping production at its sites and a voluntary withdrawal of affected products, which was initiated by the business.

Alongside this, the FSA also investigated supplier 2 Sisters Food Group, following allegations made in an undercover report from ITN News ​and The Guardian ​that the business was potentially breaching food regulations.

The FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have published details of a major review into the sites where meat products are processed and stored in the UK.

Concerned about instances

The two watchdogs announced that the review included unannounced inspections and audit regimes. The FSA announced its plans to work with the industry to implement CCTV across cutting plants, increased intelligence gathering through audit data sharing pilots across the industry and improved insight into circumstances and factors leading to non-compliance and the ability to anticipate them.

Jason Feeney and Geoff Ogle, chief executives of the FSA and FSS respectively, jointly said: “We are concerned about recent instances of companies breaching hygiene rules.

“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.

“Our review will be far reaching and thorough, and we will announce our initial findings in June.

“We are pleased the meat industry representatives who we met with have pledged their full and effective engagement with the review.”

The review will aim to increase public and stakeholder confidence in the meat industry and its regulation.

It also aims to improve the ability to identify non-compliance and take prompt action to minimise the risk to public health and food safety as well as assess how the industry currently operates across the whole supply chain.

Finally, it will look to increase awareness of circumstances and factors, which can lead to non-compliance.

The scope of the review will incorporate all types of cutting plants (red meat, white meat and game), how the current legislation works and the guidance supporting it.

It will also look to how the ‘official controls’ are carried out, which must be followed to ensure compliance with hygiene legislative requirements (including audits, inspections, sampling and surveillance).

Alongside this, it will look into the roles and responsibilities of food businesses, regulators and assurance bodes and how incidents are managed and responded to.

Extensive investigation

Assurances bodies, 2 Sisters Food Group and the FSA have also responded the recommendations made by the parliamentary inquiry into poultry-cutting plants.

In response to the inquiry, the FSA will work with industry on a voluntary protocol for adoption of CCTV in meat processing plants and will consult on legislating to implement them if necessary.

The FSA will also be running pilot schemes to improve data and intelligence sharing across the industry and is pursuing increased investigatory powers for the National Food Crime Unit.

The investigation into 2 Sisters Food Group has been extensive and thorough and looked across its poultry sites.

Some 500 hours of CCTV from the site were examined along with audit information from major retailers.

The company voluntarily ceased production at one site while changes were made and staff were retrained.

The FSA has had a permanent presence at 2 Sisters cutting plants for the past four months.

FSA chief executive Jason Feeney said: “Our investigation found some areas for improvement but the issues were resolved promptly by the company, which co-operated fully, and at no point did we find it necessary to take formal enforcement action.

“The business has made a wide range of improvements across all sites to improve processes. It is already publishing the outcomes of all its audits and is in the process of installing high-quality CCTV across its estate that we will have full access to. These are measures we would like the whole industry to adopt.”

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