A new analysis of meat plants across Britain has revealed major food safety and hygiene problems, further indicating that more than half of all audited plants have had at least one “major” violation in the past three years.
Inspection statistics from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) also show that there were on average 16 major plant safety breaches every week between 2014 and 2017, British daily The Guardian reported Saturday, citing a data analysis it conducted this week jointly with Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
According to the report, nearly two thirds of inspected 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 safety regulations.”
This is while a number of meat plants had multiple failures, with 25 food safety violations occurring at plants belonging to Russell Hume, the meat supplier at the center of recent concerns about food hygiene throughout the UK. Scotland has a separate regulator.
FSA defines major non-compliance as, “likely to compromise public health, including food safety … or may lead to the production and handling of unsafe or unsuitable food if no remedial action is taken.”
Ron Spellman, a veteran meat inspector with 30 years of experience and deputy secretary general of the European Association of Food and Meat Inspectors (EWFC) was also quoted in the report, saying, “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,” Spellman added.
Among the overall number of failings identified by FSA inspectors in the period analyzed, there were 221 major non-compliances relating to maintaining legal temperature controls, and in excess of 300 relating to minimizing the risk of cross-contamination.
Additionally, more than 50 major safety violations were discovered relating to ensuring that animal byproducts are correctly identified, and 26 connected to traceability.
According to the FSA, cross-contamination occurs when bacteria or other contaminants are spread between food, surfaces and equipment, and is one of the most common causes of food poisoning.
Breaches discovered at the Russell Hume meat plants were linked to multiple aspects of production, including maintaining legal temperature controls, preventing cross-contamination, ensuring environmental hygiene and management of food safety systems.
Reacting to the findings, parliament member Kerry McCarthy stated that the findings “raise serious questions as to how robust the FSA’s system for monitoring food hygiene really is.”
McCarthy previously served as shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.