Dangerous food safety failures have been exposed by an undercover investigation at the country’s biggest supplier of chicken to supermarkets.
Workers were seen altering the slaughter date of meat processed at a factory in the West Midlands – which means millions of shoppers could unwittingly be buying food already past its real use-by date.
Potentially contaminated chicken was also put back on the production line after it had fallen on to the floor. Old chicken portions returned by supermarket distribution centres were repackaged with fresher meat and sent out again to different grocers.
An undercover investigation has exposed shocking health failings at a factory belonging to the 2 Sisters Group, the largest supplier of chicken to UK supermarkets
Codes on crates of meat were also allegedly changed. Changing the codes means the meat would be untraceable in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning.
Quality assurance workers said they are intimidated by production managers and worry about being sent home if they try to enforce food hygiene rules.
The allegations centre on a West Bromwich factory that is part of the 2 Sisters Group, which supplies major supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl.
These stores have now launched investigations into the company, which produces a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK.
The allegations are based on an investigation by ITV News and the Guardian. An undercover reporter gathered evidence while working at the plant for 12 days.
Footage captured workers altering the date on hundreds of chickens to one day later than their slaughter. Other workers said they had witnessed dates being altered by more than a day.
Supermarket products typically have a use-by date around ten days after slaughter. There was also evidence that chickens slaughtered on different dates are mixed on the production line.
Workers said use-by dates printed on the packets tended to reflect the age of the freshest, rather than oldest, meat.
The journalist filmed Tesco’s Willow Farms range being topped up with drumsticks originally packaged for Lidl.
One former 2 Sisters worker said he had often witnessed meat being re-labelled. ‘I have done it lots of times,’ he said. ‘My supervisor asked me to do it. Everyone knows it’s not the right way… but they want to achieve their targets.
‘No one who works there buys from supermarkets… we know it can be old chicken.’
A second worker said supermarkets ‘should be surprised’ at the findings but ‘I don’t think they know what’s going on’.
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.’
A spokesman for 2 Sisters said: ‘We view these allegations extremely seriously. However, we have not been given the time or the detailed evidence to conduct any thorough investigations to establish the facts.
‘Hygiene and food safety will always be the number one priority within the business. If it comes to light any verifiable transgressions have been made at any of our sites, we will leave no stone unturned in investigating and remedying the situation immediately.’
Sainsbury’s said: ‘We are concerned by these findings and are investigating.’ M&S said: ‘We take hygiene and traceability very seriously. We are looking into these allegations with our supplier.’
Tesco said: ‘We take these allegations extremely seriously and will be carrying out our own rigorous investigation.’ Lidl said: ‘We will be urgently investigating this matter with the supplier.