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Wessex Foods burger factory devastated by fire

By Ben Bouckley , 12-Jul-2010
Last updated the 13-Jul-2010 at 11:47 GMT

The largest frozen foods processing unit in the UK has been completely destroyed by a fire that started at around 6.30pm last night.

Over 100 fire-fighters and two air support units worked through the night to contain the blaze at Wessex Foods’ Lowestoft facility, which threatened a nearby supermarket with an attached petrol station and other retail units.

The blaze continues at the factory, which employed 150 staff and produced frozen burgers and mince for multiple retailers and food service clients. Wessex Foods is part of Irish Food Processors Group (IFP), one of Europe’s leading meat processors with a turnover in excess of €1bn.

Alistair MacDougall from Wessex Foods told FoodManufacture.co.uk that production had been temporarily relocated to other company sites:

“A crisis management team is in place and an investigation is underway as to how the fire started – we have no indications as yet.”

Employee consultation

When asked what the fire would mean for 150 staff based at Lowestoft, Mr MacDougall said that a human resources team was consulting employees and it was too early to speculate on possible redundancies – although he admitted that there could be difficulties if staff were unable to relocate to other company sites.

“It’s a bleak day for Wessex Foods since we’ve invested substantially in the factory since 1996 and it was state of the art,” he said.

“Nonetheless, as a big company we can deal with this crisis, and we have resupply measures in place to ensure that our clients are not affected unduly.”

Helen Dodman from Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the blaze had still not been extinguished:

“We’re likely to be there for some time I think – given that the roof has collapsed and fire-fighters have to tackle the blaze from above and the sides.”

Anne-Marie Breach from Suffolk Police told FoodManufacture.co.uk that there was no indication of suspicious circumstances “at this stage” and it was believed the fire started accidentally inside the factory.

“A handful of workers were onsite at the time – potentially four but we can’t confirm that figure at the moment. Luckily no-one was hurt.”