A major supplier of chicken to the UK's large supermarkets have changed food safety records, leaving consumers at risk of eating out of date meat, an investigation has revealed.
An undercover probe by ITV and the Guardian found that workers at the 2 Sisters Group were 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 untraceable in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning.
They were also found to return potentially contaminated chicken to the production line after it had fallen onto the factory floor, while some staff claimed that the meat that supermarkets reject is sometimes repackaged at the factory and sent out again.
The 2 Sisters Food Group, which produces a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK and supplies chains including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl,
Experts warned that the findings could be "potential criminal offences".
Professor Chris Elliot, a food scientist at Queen’s University Belfast, who led the government's inquiry into food safety following the horsemeat scandal in 2013, said: "There are major concerns about food hygiene...I think [your] report absolutely calls out for a full investigation. I think the Food Standards Agency will take this very seriously, they will inspect and look at the premises and see if there are grounds to close the facility down."
Dr Richard Hyde, an expert in food law at the University of Nottingham, said: "If you are placing a use by date that is incorrect, that is a breach of law. If you place food on the market that doesn't have the correct traceability information, that is a criminal offence. There are a basket of potential criminal offences here that we need to look at and decide whether further action is required".
The 2 Sisters Food Group said that it takes the allegations "extremely seriously".
It said: “We have been made aware of several broad allegations made by The Guardian/ITV in relation to inappropriate procedures, food safety and hygiene issues at two of our poultry processing facilities. We view these allegations extremely seriously."
It added: “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 and detailed 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."
2 Sisters employs people to patrol the production line and enforce food safety rules but quality assurance workers told reporters that they are intimidated by production managers and fear being sent home if they intervene.
The five big supermarkets supplied by 2 Sisters’ West Bromwich plant all said they took quality and safety standards very seriously and aid they would investigate the allegations.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We operate to the highest possible food quality and safety standards, carrying out our own regular audits at all of our suppliers to ensure these standards are maintained. As such, we take these allegations extremely seriously and will be carrying out our own rigorous investigation.”
A Lidl spokesperson said: “Lidl UK takes the issue of food safety extremely seriously and, as such, we conduct independent audits to ensure that our high quality and safety standards are met. Therefore, we are very disappointed to learn of these allegations and will be urgently investigating this matter with the supplier.”
Aldi responded via the British Retail Consortium saying it takes such allegations seriously.