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Wessex Foods pays fire-hit staff ‘until further notice’

By Ben Bouckley , 26-Jul-2010
Last updated on 26-Jul-2010 at 10:44 GMT

Frozen food producer Wessex Foods has informed staff unable to work due to a factory fire that it will continue to pay their wages for the time being.

The firm’s Lowestoft facility, which employed 150 staff and produced frozen burgers and mince for multiple retailers and food service clients such as Burger King, was destroyed in a devastating blaze a fortnight ago.

A spokesman from Wessex Foods told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The site is currently being cleared and we’ve released a statement to staff informing them that we will pay them until further notice.

“In the meantime we are looking for an alternative, temporary site in the local area.”

Asked how positive he was about Wessex Foods’ future he said: “Totally – there will be life after this fire.” However, he was unable to expand upon an earlier statement that the firm was gearing-up production elsewhere to meet client demand.

He referred the question of how the fire had started to an ongoing Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service investigation. But food sector insurance expert Kevin Smith from Jardine Lloyd Thompson said that composite panels at the factory – which typically possess superior insulation and hygiene properties but burn easily – may be the reason why the blaze raged for so long.

Massive blaze

The fire took three days to quell, and at its height drew over 100 fire-fighters and two air support units from Lowestoft, Woodbridge and Yarmouth, who worked throughout the night of July 11 to prevent flames reaching a nearby supermarket with attached petrol station and other retail units.

Suffolk Fire Service assistant chief officer Gary Phillips said: “It was the biggest fire in Suffolk for some time and one of the most difficult we have had to fight for a while.”

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the company said: 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.

“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.”

Wessex Foods is part of Irish Food Processors group (IFP), one of Europe’s leading meat processors with a turnover in excess of €1bn.

The firm’s website claims that the company produces 60% of the UK’s frozen retail mince and 16,500t of frozen burgers annually.

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