Stronger food safety measures following 2 Sisters expose
Published:  25 October, 2017

Additional measures to enhance standards across food processing are being implemented in the wake of recent media coverage exposing procedural issues at 2 Sisters Food Group.

Mark Proctor, CEO, BRC Global Standards, told the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee members that these included the roll-out of detailed food safety culture assessments, in addition to audits. He was speaking at the morning session of the committee convened at London’s Portcullis House on the subject 2 Sisters and Standards in Poultry Processing.

Other aspects considered included the use of predictive modelling technology, said Proctor. “The audit is only one part of the food assurance system. It’s not a silver bullet ... We shouldn’t consider audits as the only tool to use. It’s about developing predictive analytics tools.”

In addition to production staff across all its processing sites receiving retraining on food safety and quality assurance procedures, additional surveillance measures are also being implemented to monitor 2 Sisters. However, he added: “I don’t want to go too far into talking about the surveillance programme, because it would undermine its effectiveness.”

Committee members suggested that introducing CCTV into all food processing plants, as well as abattoirs, could be a better way to ensure food safety than sporadic audits.

Dr Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, asked: “Do you think we should have CCTVs in the factory? Would that be of benefit to you?”

Proctor replied: “There’s no doubt it would be an added tool, but we need to improve the culture, so people shouldn’t be doing these things.”

Witnesses from BRC Global Standards, the Red Tractor food assurance scheme and the British Poultry Council were grilled fiercely by the committee for failing to pick up on the procedural failings highlighted by The Guardian and ITV.

Committee chairman Neil Parish said: “This should not have happened and all of you are culpable in one way or another.”

Committee members also suggested food quality and safety monitoring should be better coordinated and managed, rather than being conducted disparately without adequate communication between groups. 

Parish said he intended this first short inquiry to be followed by another in about six months, looking at lessons learned.

The hearing was convened following coverage of 2 Sisters in a joint expose by The Guardian and ITV by undercover reporters exposing bad practices, including relabelling of product dates, at its West Bromwich plant site D.

Red Tractor temporarily suspended endorsement of the plant, which has since been reinstated, and several 2 Sisters factories are still subject to an ongoing Food Standards Agency investigation.

Retailers including Aldi, Lidl, Marks & Spencer and Tesco suspended orders from the West Bromwich plant following the coverage and have launched their own probes into 2 Sisters' production practices.

In a statement on the allegations, a 2 Sisters spokesperson said: “We are shocked and distressed by the allegations and the footage which we saw for the first time on Thursday 28 September. Since the allegations were put to us by The Guardian/ITV, we have been working around the clock to get to the truth of the matter.

"We responded immediately by launching our own internal investigation at our West Bromwich plant and invited the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to independently review our standards. The FSA has been in daily attendance since the allegations were raised and confirmed that it has not identified any breaches.

“However, our internal investigation has shown some isolated instances of non-compliance with our own quality management systems. We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend operations at the site to allow us the time to retrain all colleagues, including management, in all food safety and quality management systems. All colleagues will remain on full pay and will attend site while training is undertaken.

“We will only recommence supply once we are satisfied that our colleagues have been appropriately retrained. We remain committed to ensuring that we operate to the highest standards of hygiene and food safety, and we act with honesty and integrity at all times.”