FVO finds UK hygiene failings

Meat bosses have slammed as “unacceptable” the hygiene problems found in meat plants during a visit by European inspectors into the UK sector.

Inspectors from the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) found “serious shortcomings” in two of the 12 food premises visited during a mission to audit whether official controls were being applied across the UK meat and milk sectors.

One of the two premises heavily criticised was involved in meat production. However, other red meat facilities also came in for criticism on a range of deficiencies, including issues with welfare regulation, slaughter and cutting hygiene, traceability, storage and controls on food waste and animal by-products. In one slaughterhouse, inspectors found no sterilising equipment for the splitting saw.

The report is intended to act as an overview of the UK industry, effectively acting as a snapshot for the entire sector. Fortunately, the FVO team concluded that none of the failings posed an immediate risk to human health.

The report was greeted with disappointment by the British Meat Processors Association. Phil Hambling, food policy manager, said the shortcomings undermine the entire industry: “FVO Missions are designed to provide challenging scrutiny and this is healthy to keep Member States and food business operators (FBOs) on their toes.

"However, the hygiene problems identified in some plants were unacceptable. At best, they provide opponents of the industry with plenty of ammunition to denigrate the whole sector in the eyes of the consumer and Europe.

“Mistakes can happen and I expect the operators and the authorities have now addressed the key hygiene problems at these sites. However, some of the shortcomings identified should not have been allowed to go unchallenged by the management or the authorities in the first place.”

The MHS confirmed an action plan had been formulated to rectify the failings found in the report. He added that the failures of some businesses would have repercussions for the entire sector: “The majority of the industry is highly professional. Big and small businesses can, and do, maintain very high standards of hygiene well above the legal minimum. Unfortunately, it is these businesses that do not receive the recognition they deserve, because the authorities are bound by restrictive regulation.

Clearly, some businesses need more inspection and enforcement activity but many need much less.
“Food safety has to be kept the number one priority for anyone operating in the food business. The industry cannot afford to drop its guard.”

He said another FVO mission was due to visit the UK in January next year to look at BSE controls across the sector and everyone needed to ensure their house was in order. “It’s vital we demonstrate a very high level of compliance or face long delays in changing restrictive regulation and policy,” he said.