Problems at 2 Sisters chicken factory 'not a one off'
A series of potential breaches of food safety rules were found at the supplier.
Problems identified at the 2 Sisters chicken plant in West Bromwich are "not a one-off", an inquiry has concluded.
The inquiry was launched following an undercover investigation by ITV News and the Guardian which found a series of potential breaches of food safety rules at the UK's largest supplier of supermarket chicken.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee carried out the inquiry and said the past record of the 2 Sisters Food Group is "far from pristine".
Committee chairman Neil Parish said the inquiry should act as a "wake-up call" for all accreditation firms based on its finding that there was no systematic process for combining the various audits and assessments of the UK's largest supplier of supermarket chicken.
The inquiry also found that Assured Food Standards, which licenses the Red Tractor quality mark, did not "immediately and especially" inform the Food Standards Agency (FSA) after it suspended 2 Sisters's accreditation.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, the owner and chief executive of 2 Sisters appeared before the parliamentary committee last month where he apologised to customers for doubts over food safety but denied his factory had "low standards".
Our undercover reporter got a job at "Site D" in West Bromwich, which processes fresh chicken for Tesco, Sainsbury's, Aldi, Lidl and Marks and Spencer, but found evidence that suggests some of the chicken 2 Sisters produces may not be as fresh as the use by date suggests.
At the West Bromwich site, the undercover reporter witnessed:
- Workers changing both the date of slaughter and the source codes on crates of chicken crowns in such a way that artificially extended the meat’s shelf-life and rendered it almost untraceable in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning
- On several occasions, workers returning chicken to the production line after it had fallen to the floor. This may have caused it to become contaminated
- Meat of different ages being mixed together and he filmed Tesco's "exclusive" Willow Farms range being topped up with drumsticks that were originally packaged for Lidl
The evidence sessions looked at the issues raised at the 2 Sisters plant and the role and performance of the Food Standards Agency, Sandwell Metropolitan Council and accreditation bodies.
The inquiry also investigated the potential ramifications for the poultry sector and the wider food chain.
The report said: "The problems identified at the 2 Sisters plant at West Bromwich are not a one-off.
"The past record of the 2 Sisters Food Group is far from pristine and there are valid questions to be asked of its corporate governance structure."
Mr Parish said: "Our inquiry should serve as a wake-up call for all accreditation firms and cause them to improve their processes and remove any loopholes that may exist, not just those discovered through our inquiry.
"Food supply chains are sensitive and easy to disrupt when retailers and consumers lose confidence in food quality or safety.
"Large producers and retailers have a responsibility to protect, rather than undermine, the UK's food producers."
The report said Mr Boparan wrote to the committee on 10 November to confirm commitments he made during his hearing, including placing a full-time FSA inspector in the West Bromwich plant as well as all his other plants.
He had also committed to inviting the committee to make either an announced or unannounced visit to a 2 Sisters Food Group plant, installing CCTV with complete coverage in all plants within 120 days, and implanting mystery workers into all factories by the end of January next year to identify any employees breaking site rules.
Mr Parish added: "We are pleased that Mr Boparan has written to the committee and restated his commitment to improving standards at 2 Sisters production facilities.
"The commitments are on the public record and we will be closely monitoring their implementation with a view to investigating further if required.
"It is important that consumers in both the UK and in our vital export markets feel confident in the quality of our food standards.
"We have made it quite clear that we take his assurances very seriously. We will be closely monitoring their implementation."