Chicken hygiene row intensifies, as Unite slams DH

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

2 Sisters insisted it had done nothing wrong
2 Sisters insisted it had done nothing wrong

Related tags: Sisters food group, Food standards agency, Hygiene

The row over hygiene standards at poultry producers 2 Sisters Food Group and Faccenda has intensified, after Unite the union slammed health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s bid to allay public concern.

The Department of Health (DH) boss ordered investigations into alleged hygiene failings at poultry processing factories operated by the two firms, following a series of allegations about poor standards made by the Guardian.

A DH spokesperson told this website: “We want the public to feel reassured that the food they buy is safe. The Food Standards Agency ​[FSA] has already reviewed the Guardian’s evidence and found no risk to public health.”

“In addition, the FSA has agreed, at the request of the secretary of state for health, to conduct a full safety audit of the facility. They will start in the next 24 hours and report back shortly.”

On Friday (July 25) FSA inspectors were told to audit the two 2 Sisters Food Group plants at Llangefni and Scunthorpe within 24 hours to ensure that operations are consistent with good hygiene practice and legislation. The review included scrutiny of plants’ CCTV footage.

'We welcomed these audits'

Today (July 28), 2 Sisters Food Group said that the inspections at both sites – Scunthorpe and Llangefni – had “passed the rigorous audit processes, which were carried out on July 25”.​ The firm said Scunthorpe had been rated as ‘good’ and ‘Llangefni’ as ‘generally satisfactory’.

Ranjit Singh, ceo of 2 Sisters Food Group, said: “We welcomed these audits and we are pleased the FSA has worked with typical rigor and thoroughness. We are satisfied with their findings which show that no legislative compliance issues were raised.”

But he added: “We operate our business in an environment of continual improvement and we will be carrying on with that to ensure we produce first-class British products for all of our customers.”

But last Friday, Unite urged government to restore food inspections at least to pre-coalition levels to avert food safety concerns. An FSA report last year revealed that of 608,143 local authority-registered food establishments, more than 55% did not receive an inspection in the year April 2012 to March 2013, it claimed.

Julia Long, Unite’s national officer for the food sector, said: “We are glad that Jeremy Hunt has woken up to the importance of food inspection, but he is a bit late to this party.  Where was he when we were fighting to stop cuts to the service?

“Food processing is one of our fastest-growing industries, employing hundreds of thousands of workers. The industry needs an inspection regime that respects this and understands that public safety and confidence are paramount. At the moment, thanks to the running down of the service, a business can look forward to an inspection only once in a blue moon.

“If the government is serious about standards across this industry, it must beef up our inspection services, and stop deriding health and safety protections as needless red tape,”​ said Long. “They are central to public and workforce welfare.”

The Guardian​ claimed chickens that fell on the floor were repeatedly returned to production lines at 2 Sisters’ factories, alongside other allegations of poor hygiene standards regarding campylobacter.

‘Untrue, misleading and inaccurate’

But 2 Sisters denied any wrong doing. “The allegations about our processing sites at Scunthorpe and Llangefni ​[in the article] concerning our business and our management of campylobacter are untrue, misleading and inaccurate,” ​it insisted.

“There is no campylobacter contamination or problems at our sites, as confirmed by multiple independent external audits and our own rigorous testing. We strongly deny and defend ourselves against these allegations.”

The firm said its company’s heritage was steeped in the poultry sector. “We are extremely proud of this heritage and our excellent track record as a poultry processor, and we will remain so. We are doing more than any other business in addressing the key issues our sector is facing and we are leading the way in establishing and enforcing industry best practice.”

2 Sisters claimed: “In short, we are doing more than any other business in addressing the key issues our sector is facing and we are leading the way in establishing and enforcing industry best practice.”

A spokesman for Faccenda defended the firm’s hygiene standards and live bird biosecurity processes. “At Faccenda Foods, we recognise the food safety challenge posed by campylobacter and the concerns of consumers in this area,”​ he said.

“Through our Campylobacter Action Plan, Faccenda Foods continues to invest significantly across the whole supply chain to address this top priority issue. Our investment in current projects to tackle campylobacter is in excess of £1M.”

The plan was said to focus on three areas: farm biosecurity, interventions in factory operations and improved food safety in the kitchen.

Don't miss Food Manufacture Group’s Food safety conference: Safe & legal food in a changing world at which Jenny Morris, chief policy officer for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, will describe the effect budget cuts are having on local authority food safety inspections, while Jeremy Hall, group technical director, Bernard Matthews, will describe the latest developments in a project studying the use of surface chilling to kill off campylobacter on poultry.

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