UK – The multimillionaire boss of 2 Sisters Food Group has apologised to a parliamentary committee following the safety branches revealed by an undercover investigation.
The chicken company’s chief executive Ranjit Singh Boparan appeared before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday and, asked if he accepted the allegations, replied that he was ‘absolutely not aware these problems were happening’.
Undercover footage filmed by the Guardian and ITV News revealed workers altering the slaughter date of poultry as well as other food hygiene issues at the company’s plant in West Bromwich.
The Food Standards Agency is also investigating two other 2 Sisters poultry plants in England and Wales – including its huge factory in Willand.
Mr Boparan said: “We absolutely apologise for the doubt this has caused to our customers, consumers and employees.
“We want to reassure you we do treat food safety at the highest of our standards. We are continuously committed to improving food safety every day.”
Addressing the allegation that an employee was witnessed picking meat up off the floor and returning it to the production line, he said: “Absolutely should not have happened. Nobody should ever pick up product off the floor.
We train our staff when they join us. There’s a four hour induction process when they start. There are signs all over the factory saying do not pick up product off the floor.
“Someone’s made a mistake and I absolutely take responsibility for that.”
EFRA committee chairman Neil Parish, who is MP for Tiverton and Honiton, then quizzed Mr Boparan and 2 Sisters group technical director Chris Gilbert-Wood on allegations that a worker was witnessed being instructed by a supervisor to change the kill dates on crates of chicken, thereby potentially artificially stretching the commercial life of the product and resulting in the possibility that consumers could end up buying the chicken past its use-by date.
Mr Gilbert-Wood said: “I have said we don’t do that.”
Mr Boparan said: “We produce safe food and we will continue to improve our systems.”
Questioned on his response to an undercover reporter who worked just 12 shifts presenting these allegations, he replied: “These are all allegations and some of them are very misleading.”
He continued: “We do not have low standards. I invite all of you to my factory – come announced or unannounced. I can’t accept that you say we have low standards. We have high standards with our suppliers, with our customers and with our staff.”
Asked if he had seen the footage gathered by ITV News and the Guardian on the company’s own CCTV system, he said: “No, sadly CCTV doesn’t cover the whole factory.”
But he added: “We want to get the confidence… we’ve realised that the CCTV doesn’t cover one of the rooms. Not only are we going to put it in there, we’re going to put it in all our factories.”
Mr Parish asked: “So why didn’t your systems find a problem? It seems rather convenient that there was a problem in the one place you didn’t have CCTV.”
Mr Boparan replied: “The reason we can reassure you is we’ve looked at this. These four weeks have been very difficult for a lot of people. Mistakes happen but what we try to do is learn from the mistakes and put them right.”
Mr Parish asked again: “But why did your internal processes on food safety not pick this up? Can you assure us that in the future they’re not going to happen again?”
Mr Boparan said: “Look, I’ve been in the industry 30 years. I asked my own team the same question you’ve just asked me, And from our point of view is we re-look at how we look at things. I reassure you we will continue to improve. I reassure you food safety is our highest agenda. I reassure you our food is safe.”
“We have CCTV footage … 36 cameras in this factory. We’ve put someone on full time watching that CCTV during production because we want to make sure we get the confidence of consumers back.”
On Tuesday it was revealed that a worker filmed changing food safety records at the factory in West Bromwich had been sacked.
It also emerged that the West Bromwich factory was temporarily stripped of its Red Tractor food safety and traceability accreditation.