It followed an undercover press investigation at the company’s West Bromwich chicken factory, which identified alleged food safety failures.
Others giving evidence included representatives of the British Poultry Council, British Retail Consortium, Red Tractor assurance scheme and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is investigating the claims.
Allegations of food hygiene contraventions
The allegations of food hygiene contraventions, plus relabelling and repackaging of chicken portions for redistribution have yet to be officially proved by the FSA. But they are said by my sources to be far from uncommon across the food industry.
Industry insiders and auditors have told me of various examples of dodgy date re-labelling they have personally encountered.
They claim such practices result from the pressure on shopfloor workers to meet production targets for retail customers. The situation, they argue, arises from an inadequate food safety culture within many companies, which leads staff to do things they know to be wrong.
Isn’t just suppliers that are culpable
But it isn’t just suppliers that are culpable of changing date codes on products, they say. The sources have told me that they have also discovered these practices within retailers’ own operations.
Despite calls for tougher public inspections and private audits of suppliers, experts doubt these would pick up such bad practices. They claim more detailed investigations are necessary to understand and change behaviours, combined with simpler whistleblowing procedures.
This requires cultural change within food and retail businesses. And that has to start at the top.