The FSA said a joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and a national newspaper “did not give the complete picture” on the condition of meat entering the food chain, and its inspections ensure safety standards.
An FSA statement read: “Our meat hygiene inspectors and official veterinarians inspect every red meat and poultry carcase for visible contamination – 99.57% of them pass the test. The remaining 0.43% is rejected and passed back to the food business, and they have to rectify the problem.
‘Robust enforcement action’
“Hygiene failures are not tolerated by the FSA, and we take robust enforcement action to ensure food businesses improve their procedures to prevent meat becoming contaminated in the first place.”
The FSA would take enforcement action if a manufacturer’s hygiene standards failed to improve, or the risk to public health was high enough, it said. That included revoking a premise’s operating license.
The investigation also alleged that the FSA had mis-recorded findings on official government audits of slaughterhouses, to hide hygiene breaches.
Alleged hygiene breaches included carcasses coming into contact with the factory floor, using unsterilised cutting equipment, and splashing meat with dirty water potentially contaminated with faeces, claimed a report in the Observer.
The public could be at risk of contracting E.coli, salmonella and campylobacter due to the hygiene failings, the investigation alleged.
86 failed to meet that standard
The allegations came after the audit of 323 abattoir inspections in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were analysed. To pass hygiene regulations, abattoirs must show that “all handlings and processes from slaughtering to despatch are done in a way that avoids the contamination of meat and offal entering the food chain”. About 27% of slaughterhouses (86) failed to meet that standard, the investigation claimed.
University of Aberdeen emeritus professor of bacteriology Hugh Pennington told the Observer: “If it was one in 100, even that would be too many, but one in four is unacceptable. This is basic hygiene.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense. The FSA should be coming down on this like a tonne of bricks. It’s very disappointing this is going on. The main risk is E.coli O157. The consequences can be catastrophic. People died.”
FoodManufacture.co.uk approached FSA over allegations of mis-reporting information.
Alleged food hygiene breaches included:
- Carcasses coming into contact with the factory floor
- Unsterilised cutting equipment used
- Splashing meat with dirty water potentially contaminated with faeces