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Could the chicken we’re buying be out of date?

UK’s biggest poultry supplier accused of fiddling food safety records

A meat supplier responsible for one third of the poultry bought in the UK has been accused of changing food date records, which could mean we’re buying chicken past its use-by date. Read on to find out all you need to know.

UK food production giant 2 Sisters Food Group was recently investigated by The Guardian and ITV, using undercover filming to highlight practices at one of its factories. They claim to have found workers altering slaughter dates on chicken, thereby falsely appearing to extend its safe use.

2 Sisters Food Group supplies a number of well-known supermarkets, including Aldi, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and processes six million chickens a week.

UPDATE 2 October: The West Bromwich factory run by 2 Sisters Food Group has temporarily ceased production while it investigates the allegations.

Find out what happened when we campaigned for more chicken safety in 2015.

Potentially unsafe chicken

In addition to the accusation of the illegal practice of changing dates, the media outlets claim to have found workers at the company’s factory in West Bromwich:

  • dropping chicken on the floor and placing it back on the production line;
  • repackaging unsold meat from one retailer into another retailer’s packaging;
  • mixing older meat with fresh meat and basing the use-by date on the newer meat;
  • adjusting kill locations, which could cause problems if the product needs to be recalled as its origins will be harder to pin down.

In a statement to The Guardian, 2 Sisters Food Group’s legal advisers said: ‘Food safety and hygiene are 2SFG’s top priorities. To the extent that you [The Guardian] have identified any shortcomings (which is not admitted), these could only be isolated examples which our clients would take very seriously, and they are investigating the allegations made.’

The affected supermarkets also told the The Guardian that they take food safety very seriously and would be investigating the issue.

When we spoke to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it said it had sent inspectors to the factory yesterday to begin investigations.

In a statement it said: ‘Our inspectors found no evidence of breaches. However, we continue to review the evidence and if any incidences of non-compliance are found, we will take prompt and proportionate action with the business concerned, working closely with the local authority.’

Heather Hancock, chairman of the FSA, added: ‘Should we find any evidence of any risk to public health, any products on the market which we believe to be a cause of concern will be urgently removed from sale.’

How can I avoid out-of-date chicken?

False information on the food we buy leaves shoppers in the dark. The best advice is to check that your meat is as fresh as possible before you eat it.

Any poultry that is grey, marked with yellow spots or smells bad should be thrown away as soon as possible to avoid cross contamination. Unfortunately, smell isn’t a fail-safe way to check whether meat is off, though.

The FSA says that cooking removes any bacteria, so cook chicken thoroughly, ensuring that it’s steaming hot all the way through. Make sure that you check this by cutting into the thickest part. The meat shouldn’t be pink, and any juices should run clear.

Also, don’t ever wash your chicken before you prepare it. This could spread potentially harmful bacteria.

Not the first food fraud scandal

Worryingly, we’ve seen problems with the food we eat before. Remember the horsemeat scandal in 2013? We followed this up in 2014 with a Which? investigation into takeaway food fraud and found that some takeaways were selling adulterated meat. In fact, 40% of the lamb takeaways we tested contained other meats, such as beef and chicken.

In the same year, we found fish fraudulently labelled at some fish and chip shops. Some fish, that was claimed to be cod or haddock was actually whiting, a cheaper fish used in ready meals and pet food.

So we launched our Stop Food Fraud Campaign, which called on the FSA and local authorities to stop food fraud, and the government set up a new Food Crime Unit to tackle this.

But we’re always discovering new scandals. This year, our investigation into food hygiene ratings found that one in every five eateries in the UK don’t meet food hygiene standards.

If you’re concerned about your local area, you can use our interactive map to take a look at the food safety ratings in your neighbourhood.

If you’ve spotted a food scandal, let us know. Email homeeditor@which.co.uk.

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