UK's biggest chicken supplier embroiled in food safety breach

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29 Sep 2017 --- Supermarkets in the UK have been warned that they could be selling chicken that is past its sell-by date after an investigation found that the largest supplier of chicken to UK supermarkets may be tampering with food safety records. An investigation by The Guardian newspaper and ITV News recorded undercover footage of workers altering the slaughter date of poultry being processed at a 2 Sisters Food Group plant. 

The Guardian notes that the group produces a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK and supplies top grocers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl.

Following horsemeat scandal
The discovery comes four years after the 2013 horsemeat scandal, which has resulted in prison sentences for those convicted of a conspiracy to pass off cheaper horsemeat as beef.

The practice of changing “kill dates” could artificially stretch the commercial life of meat products by triggering the food processor to print incorrect use-by dates on supermarket packaging, according to the investigation.

Workers at the company confirmed to investigators that they had been asked to switch these labels on other occasions. It is illegal to place incorrect use-by dates on food, which are set for safety reasons and differ from “best before” dates.

The Guardian and ITV News joint investigation, which involved taking secret recordings during a spell of 12 working days inside 2 Sisters’ plant in West Bromwich, also alleges that:

• Use-by dates printed on the packets of the mixed chicken tend to show the age of the freshest, rather than oldest, meat in the batch.

• Chicken portions returned by supermarket distribution centers are being repackaged by 2 Sisters and then sent out again to major grocers.

• Chickens dropped on the floor of the processing plant by workers are then returned to the production line.

• Workers change records of where chickens were slaughtered, potentially hindering authorities’ efforts to recall contaminated meat during food scares.

The company says it has not been given enough time or detail to respond to the allegations, which it describes as “false.”

“Food safety and hygiene are 2SFG’s top priorities,” reads a letter from 2 Sisters Food Group’s legal advisers, Schillings, to The Guardian. “To the extent that you have identified any shortcomings (which is not admitted), these could only be isolated examples which our clients would take very seriously, and they are investigating the allegations made.”

“We view these allegations extremely seriously,” reads the company’s statement on the investigation on its website. “However, we have not been given the time or the detailed evidence to conduct any thorough investigations to establish the facts, which makes a fulsome response very difficult.”

“What we can confirm is that hygiene and food safety will always be the number one priority within the business, and they remain at its very core,” the statement continues. “We also successfully operate in one of the most tightly controlled and highly regulated food sectors in the world.”

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