Almost two-thirds of meat plants in breach of safety regulations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
The scale of food safety and hygiene problems in meat plants around much of the UK is revealed by new analysis showing more than half of all audited plants have had at least one “major” breach in the last three years.
Inspection figures from the Food Standards Agency( FSA) expose there were on average 16 major plant safety infractions every week between 2014 -2 017, according to a data analysis conducted this week by the Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Almost two one-thirds of audited meat cutting factories( 540 out of 890) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had at least one instance of major non-compliance with hygiene or food security regulations. Several plants had multiple failures, with 25 violates occurring at plants belonging to Russell Hume, the meat supplier at the centre of recent concerns about UK food hygiene. Scotland has a separate regulator.
A major non-compliance is, by the FSA’s definition,” likely to compromise public health, including food security … or may lead to the production and handling of unsafe or unsuitable food if no remedial action is taken “.
Among the overall number of fails identified by FSA auditors in the period analysed, there were 221 major non-compliances relating to maintaining legal temperature controls, and in excess of 300 relating to minimising health risks of cross-contamination. In addition, more than 50 major violates were discovered relating to ensuring that animal byproducts are correctly identified, and 26 connected to traceability.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria or other contaminants are spread between food, surfaces and equipment, and is one of the more common causes of food poisoning, according to the FSA. Traceability is a legal requirement for food business operators to keep records of food and food-producing animals supplied to their business, and those enterprises that they have, in turn, furnished.
Breaches found at the Russell Hume meat plants related to multiple aspects of production, including maintaining legal temperature controls, preventing cross-contamination, ensuring environmental hygiene and management of food security systems.
The findings” raise serious questions as to how robust the FSA’s system for monitoring food hygiene really is”, said Kerry McCarthy MP, who served as shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until 2016.
” These figures are truly shocking ,” Kath Dalmeny, CEO of campaign group Sustain, told the Guardian.” That is why I find it so dismaying that over the last decade our government has slashed the budgets for the bodies who police our food system- our local authority meat hygiene services, independent public analyst laboratories and trading criteria inspectors. They doggedly insist on seeking the flawed notion that light-touch regulation is good enough for the meat industry .”
Ron Spellman, a meat inspector with 30 years’ experience and deputy secretary general of the European Association of Food and Meat Inspectors( EWFC ), said:” What I also find worrying is the attitude of the company I’ve read today, in which they blame the FSA’s handling of the issue for the collapse of the company. There seems to be no willingness to accept responsibility .”
But Prof Hugh Pennington, a renowned expert in bacteriology, pointed out that” Widespread breaches[ are] patently a bad thing, but their detecting shows that the rules and regulations seems to be working. In the past, outbreaks resulted because the regulators were missing the breaches .”
And an FSA spokesperson said:” We carry out thousands of audits and unannounced inspections of meat plants each year to verify that food hygiene criteria are being met. Issues that may pose imminent or serious danger to public health will result in immediate and robust enforcement action being taken.
” Only 2% of plants were found to have more than two major non-compliances. Each audit assesses almost 50 different hygiene criteria and a single issue can result in multiple major and minor non compliances being recorded. Issues of major and minor non-compliance saw through our audits do not inevitably mean that a food business will receive an overall negative outcome. However, it does mean the frequency of audits and unannounced inspections at sites will increase to ensure the issues raised are being addressed .”
When asked what action the FSA had taken in relation to these earlier Russell Hume non-compliances, the spokesman said:” Our published audit data shows that we procured hygiene issues at Russell Hume sites not related to those which we are currently investigating. As a outcome, the FSA carried out increased audits at the affected sites .”
In a statement, the former directors of Russell Hume Ltd said:” Between 2014 -2 017 the FSA carried out a number of routine inspections and audits of Russell Hume’s six branches. The audit system is specifically designed to highlight regions for improvement, and inevitably there were a small number of recommendations over this period that required action. But these averaged around one a year per branch, and taken together and in the context of industry practice as a whole, the audit outcomes were positive for Russell Hume. The company has never been prosecuted for food safety or hygiene offences, and insured no FSA enforcement action taken against it over this period .”
There is growing anxiety that the problems in the industry may be wider than initially supposed. Four different companies have now withdrawn meat, and the FSA has also set up a national its consideration of meat processing plants. This week the agency met with meat industry heads to discuss the situation, for a discussion that was apparently” constructive and engaging “.
In the House of Commons yesterday shadow secretary of state Barry Gardiner asked Liam Fox, secretary of state for international trade, whether he was aware that the FSA had recently imprisoned large quantities of out of date meat in a cold store company. Gardiner said the meat was believed to come from Ireland and South America and that one of the companies he named had been implicated in the Irish horsemeat scandal of 2013 and had previously been is guilty of meat labelling fraud. He asked that the secretary of state” urgently liaises with pastors in the Republic, with the FSA here and with the Irish Food Safety Authority” to look at the furnish chain.
” Failure on this scale can’t be attributed to only a few rogue business falling through the cracks ,” said McCarthy.” Consumers need to have confidence in the system and need to know that action is being taken against companies with incidents of major non-compliance .”
Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com