News, views, discussion and analysis of farming and food issues along the supply chain.
A review is to be carried out at all cutting plants and cold stores across the UK, following the discovery of breaches in hygiene regulations at two meat processors.
The discovery of the breaches at Russell Hume’s plant in Birmingham in January followed an unannounced inspection of the meat processor by the Food Standards Agency in England .
This led the Food Standards Agency and its Scottish counterpart Food Standards Scotland to investigate all Russell Hume sites, and other plants where their product is stored, in England, Scotland and Wales.
Because Russell Hume was complying with food hygiene rules, the FSA stopped any product from leaving their sites until the business could provide assurances that they are complying with the relevant legislation, and that they were producing safe food.
The FSA also told Russell Hume to withdraw all affected product in the supply chain.
This led to supplies of meat to several restaurant chains including some run by Jamie Oliver and also Wetherspoons being cut.
Almost a month later, Russell Hume was allowed to resume production and distribution at its plant in Liverpool but production is at a standstill at other plants.
The FSA said that there had been no indication that people had been made ill by the products but it was worried that the poor practices were a risk.
At the time of the initial breach of the regulations Jason Feeney, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Standards Agency said: “We don’t take decisions to stop production, instigate product recalls or withdrawals lightly.
“Our job is to ensure that food produced by a business is safe and clearly we must take a proportionate approach.
“We do recognise the potential impact of our decisions on business and peoples’ livelihoods. In the Russell Hume case our own unannounced inspection at one site gave us some cause for concern about non-compliance with food hygiene regulations, it was not triggered by any reports of ill-health.
“We then looked right across this UK-wide business and concluded that the non-compliance was serious and widespread enough to advise stopping all production at Russell Hume plants and initiate a withdrawal of products. We worked with the company to get this done as quickly and effectively as possible and our actions have been proportionate based on the evidence we have obtained.
“Of course, public health remains our top priority and at no stage in the process has there been any indication that people have become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume. This remains the case and we continue to assess the situation working with the relevant public health bodies.
“As the company have not been able to demonstrate they have a sufficiently robust management system in place it is absolutely right that we have taken these appropriate actions.”
The problems at Russell Hume led the FSA and its Scottish counterpart to review the working at all meat cutting premises and cold stores.
The review also follows non-compliance issues at the 2 Sisters Food Group.
Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency and Ross Finnie Chair of Food Standards Scotland, jointly said: “In the last six months the FSA and FSS have faced two serious incidents involving major players in the meat sector.
“People rightly expect food businesses to keep to the rules, rules designed to keep consumers safe and to sustain public trust in food – and food businesses have a duty to follow the regulations.
“In the light of these recent incidents, the FSA and FSS will be taking forward reviews of cutting plants and cold stores used for meat. Further details will be published later this month and the results will be fully available to the public.”