More food chains were dragged into the meat scare yesterday as it emerged inspectors are probing ‘use by’ dates.
As customers deserted crisis-hit supplier Russell Hume, pub chain Yates joined a growing list of leading brands caught up in the hygiene scandal.
Wetherspoon announced yesterday it has cancelled its contract with the Derby-based meat firm, which used to hold a Royal Warrant and supplies pubs and restaurants across Britain. Meanwhile, it also emerged managers have been advising some of its workers to look for new jobs.
Yesterday, the Food Standards Agency was forced to deny a ‘cover-up’ after being accused of keeping the public in the dark. It waited 12 days before raising the alert over ‘serious non-compliance’ with hygiene regulations it found at Russell Hume’s six factories.
A spokesman for the Jamie Oliver Group said its restaurants had been able to source replacement meat, so the move did not result in shortages for diners
Last night the FSA confirmed the issue concerns ‘use-by’ dates on meats. A spokesman said: ‘Issues of serious non-compliance were uncovered. These related to concerns about procedures and processes around use-by dates.’
But industry and Whitehall sources claimed it relates to the date on meat labels, with inspectors finding poultry and red meat that may have been packaged with inaccurate ‘use-by’ labels.
It is feared millions of chicken, pork, lamb and steak meals served to diners at well-known chains such as Wetherspoon, Greene King pubs, Jamie Oliver’s restaurants and Hilton hotels may have been tainted.
Yesterday the FSA’s chief executive Jason Feeney denied keeping the public in the dark. He told Radio 4’s World at One: ‘The FSA have taken proportionate action.’
Asked why the watchdog had delayed four days between halting all production at Russell Hume factories and starting a product recall, he blamed the company, saying: ‘Clearly if the company doesn’t decide to voluntarily recall, then we can take steps.’ Mr Feeney said the inspectors had discovered ‘systemic and widespread’ concerns at the factories. In a statement he added: ‘We don’t take decisions to stop production, instigate product recalls or withdrawals lightly.’
Wetherspoon pubs, whose sirloin steak meal is pictured, are reintroducing steak next week
A notice, spotted by customer Ian Heath, attributed the absence to a ‘supplier failure’, saying the Aberdeen Angus rump steak, Sirloin steak and gammon would be unavailable
Last night the Unison union, which represents food plant inspectors, suggested mislabelled or unfit meat may have been going to restaurants, schools and care homes for months. Spokesman Heather Wakefield said: ‘This appalling discovery was made on an unannounced visit. The previous inspection had been almost a year before that. The amount of unfit meat released into the human food chain during this time doesn’t bear thinking about.’
The alert began on January 12 when the FSA made an unannounced inspection of Russell Hume’s Birmingham factory. The inquiry spread to its other production sites and food stores in Liverpool, Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, London, Exeter and Inverkeithing, Scotland. Yesterday a worker at one of the sites told the Mail: ‘I was advised just in case to start looking for a job. My manager said just to be safe, it was better to have a job to go to, than none.’
Russell Hume has not explained the issues to the public. Its website has been taken down and its phones go unanswered. In its only statement, the firm has said the FSA’s actions came as a ‘serious shock’.