2 Sisters boss denies knowledge of alleged food safety breaches in government committee hearing
PUBLISHED: 10:10 26 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:10 26 October 2017
MPs investigating the 2 Sisters Food Group have accused the food safety watchdog of intelligence and auditing failings after it admitted to knowing of only “minor” complaints at a processing plant facing allegations of hygiene breaches.
Food Standards Agency (FSA) chief executive Jason Feeney told the environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) committee that the plant in West Bromwich was not regarded as high risk before an undercover investigation exposed alleged poor hygiene standards.
Meanwhile the owner of the company, which has factories in Thetford and Flixton, near Bungay, told the committee he was “absolutely not aware” of the alleged problems.
Mr Feeney said the FSA had no intelligence on the site which caused concern prior to the allegations, having only found a few “minor non-compliances”.
Efra committee chairman Neil Parish called the situation “surreal”, adding: “It is not just 2 Sisters that is at fault here, it’s the regulatory system as well.”
Mr Feeney said the plant was last subject to an unannounced inspection last November and was fully audited on July 19.
The FSA confirmed the audit only threw up minor complaints to do with labelling, cleaning and documentation, but nothing considered serious or a risk to public health.
An undercover reporter claimed to witness workers tampering with slaughter dates and mixing meat of different ages.
Source codes on crates of meat were also changed and meat was picked up off the floor, the investigation claimed.
The practices can artificially extend the shelf life of meat, and make it untraceable in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning.
2 Sisters chief executive Ranjit Singh Boparan told the committee the company was “continuously committed to improving food safety”. “We absolutely apologise for the doubt this has caused to our customers, consumers and employees,” he said.
When asked if he had seen the footage gathered by undercover reporters from ITV and The Guardian on the company’s own CCTV system, Mr Boparan said its cameras did not cover an area where alleged breaches had been seen – an oversight which Mr Parish called “convenient”.
Mr Boparan replied: “These four weeks have been very difficult for a lot of people. Mistakes happen but what we try to do is learn from the mistakes and put them right.” He also said a staff member had since been put on watching CCTV footage during production “because we want to make sure we get the confidence of consumers back”.
He insisted the company did not have “low standards”, adding: “I reassure you we will continue to improve. I reassure you food safety is our highest agenda. I reassure you our food is safe.”
The FSA said in a statement: “It is the responsibility of those producing, selling and serving food to ensure that it is safe and what it says it is.
“Audits and inspections provide a snapshot of the way operations are carried out. Legally audits need to be announced so in stand-alone cutting plants audits are supplemented by regular unannounced inspections.
“We agree with the committee that access to audits carried out by other organisations, including retailers, would provide a fuller picture.”