02 Oct 2017 --- UK retailer Sainsbury's has joined Marks and Spencer, Lidl and Aldi in suspending taking fresh chicken from 2 Sisters plant in West Bromwich (UK) featured in an investigation by ITV News and The Guardian, which uncovered a series of potential breaches of food safety rules. 2 Sisters accounts for one-third of all chicken processed in the UK.
The investigation found evidence of 2 Sisters workers altering the slaughter date of poultry, raising the risk that shoppers could end up buying meat past its use-by date. It also captured workers dropping chicken on the floor of the processing plant and returning it to the production line.
The move follows an announcement by the chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee who is considering a “short, sharp parliamentary inquiry” into food safety at 2 Sisters, the UK's largest supplier of chickens to supermarkets. Neil Parish MP said the inquiry would seek to 'restore public confidence' and hoped the firm's owner, Ranjit Boparan, could be called to give evidence. It is claimed older birds were dumped in with fresh stock but given the same sell-by dates and chickens thrown back on the production line after falling on the floor.
The Guardian also reported that a Tesco response saying that it had “made a mistake” when it described chicken sold under its Willow Farm brand as “reared exclusively” for the supermarket chain, after undercover footage of a processing plant showed packs of drumsticks returned by Lidl being repackaged as Willow Farm products.
The UK’s biggest retailer subsequently removed the claim that Willow Farm chicken is “reared exclusively for Tesco” from its website after the reports showed packs of Lidl drumsticks being opened and emptied back on to the production line. The drumsticks then re-emerged at the end of the line, repackaged with Willow Farm labels and destined for Tesco’s shelves.
“The Willow Farm brand is exclusive to Tesco and this is clearly marked on our packaging,” said a Tesco spokesman. “The wording on our website unfortunately was incorrect and we have already removed it. We sincerely apologize to customers for any confusion this may have caused.”
Lawyers from Schillings, speaking on behalf of 2 Sisters, said: “The Willow Farms brand is exclusive to Tesco, but the raw material is not.”
In responses to the reports last week, the UK Food Standards Agency issued a statement noting that FSA Standards Agency inspectors went into the plant in question on Thursday September 28 to begin their investigation.
“Our inspectors found no evidence of breaches. However we continue to review the evidence and if any incidences of non-compliance are found we will take prompt and proportionate action with the business concerned, working closely with the local authority,” a statement read.
“We would urge ITN and the Guardian to share any additional evidence, including witness statements, that would inform our investigation. This particular cutting plant is regularly audited by the FSA and they are also subject to unannounced inspections. The FSA urges anyone with information for this investigation to contact them,” it added. Heather Hancock, Chairman of the FSA said: “It is the responsibility of a food business to ensure that the food it sells is safe and what it says it is. We take any allegations of inaccurate labelling and breaches in hygiene regulations very seriously. Should we find any evidence of any risk to public health, any products on the market which we believe to be a cause of concern will be urgently removed from sale. We would always encourage consumers to take note of our advice on safe cooking, handling and storage of chicken and other poultry meat.”
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