British supplier’s tampering of chicken slaughter dates puts consumers at risk

Sajeda Momin
Sajeda Momin - Special to Al Arabiya English
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If you are visiting Britain in the near future then you may want to stay away from buying raw chicken from supermarkets for the time being. The largest supplier of chicken to the country’s supermarkets has been found to be passing off old meat as fresh and thereby endangering the health of consumers.

An undercover investigation by two of UK’s biggest media networks – The Guardian newspaper and ITV News – has thrown up shocking visuals of staff at a chicken processing plant tampering with the dates of when the birds were slaughtered, known as “kill dates”.

This has a direct impact on how long supermarkets can sell the raw chicken for and the “use by” dates on the packaging. Generally, the birds can only be sold for up to 10 days after they have been killed, otherwise the meat is considered too old for consumption and could be injurious to health.

The networks secretly filmed for 12 days at the chicken processing plant of the 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG) in West Bromwich in the West Midlands.

The company is owned by an Indian origin couple, Ranjit Singh Boparan and his wife Baljinder Kaur, and the chicken operations are part of a sprawling 3 billion pound food empire that includes turkey producer Bernard Matthews, food brands like Fox’s Biscuits and Goddfella’s pizza and restaurant chains Harry Ramsden, Fish Works and Giraffe.

According to The Sunday Times Rich list the 51-year-old Boparan and his wife are worth GBP 544 million. The footage also shows staff picking up meat dropped on the floor and putting it back on the conveyor belt: older meat being mixed in with fresh meat during packaging and re-packing chicken returned from one supermarket and sending it off to another.

All these acts violate UK’s strict food health and safety laws and are considered a criminal offence. This is the biggest food scandal to hit the country since the 2013 horsemeat scam where cheaper horsemeat was passed off as beef.

“Over the past three to four years I have conducted many inspections of food businesses right across the UK. I have never seen one operate under such poor standards as your video evidence shows,” said Prof Chris Elliot, a food safety academic from Queen’s University Belfast, of 2SFG.

“The Food Standards Agency (FSA) will take this very seriously. They will look at the premises and decide if there are grounds to close the facility down” said Elliot, who had led the UK government’s independent review of food systems following the horsemeat scandal.

The boycott

As soon as the five big supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl and Marks and Spencers – heard of the allegations they boycotted 2SFG’s West Bromwich processing plant. 2SFG has 12 such plants across the UK.

The supermarkets have ordered their own investigations of 2SFG before they restart deliveries as has the FSA, which is the government regulator.

The media-shy Boparan, who has been dubbed ‘Chicken King’ for supplying around 6 million birds every week to different retailers, tried to douse the fire as quickly as possible. Before the FSA shut it down for violations, 2SFG announced that while they didn’t accept the allegations made by the media networks, they were shutting down their West Bromwich plant to retrain their staff.

2SFG has 23,000 employees and executives said that the closure would cost the company up to half a million pounds a week, but it will be using the incident as a “wake-up call” and would be retraining staff across its business.

The staff “will remain on full pay and will attend the site while the company overhauls its procedures and operations will only restart once the firm is satisfied that its staff have been properly retrained” explained a company executive.

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