Scare over bacteria poisoning in chickens prompts Britain to check processing plants

Newspaper reports that processing centres fail to follow strict hygiene standards

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 1:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 4:46am

Britain's food safety watchdog will investigate two chicken processing factories there after reports of contamination in the poultry industry.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced it would carry out the safety audit after The Guardian newspaper showed how strict industry hygiene standards could be disregarded, potentially encouraging the spread of the bacterium campylobacter, which contaminates two-thirds of fresh chicken and can cause food poisoning.

The revelations come amid an escalating food safety scare in Hong Kong and on the mainland, where a major chicken supplier was found to be using rotten meat.

On Thursday the FSA initially said it was "content" with the way the official vet at the chicken processing plants and the company had dealt with incidents.

However, health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded a thorough probe, prompting the FSA to announce it would send auditors in almost immediately and they would review CCTV footage of activity on the factory floor.

"We don't think there was a risk to public health from the evidence we've seen, but we want to do a full safety audit," the FSA said.

A spokesman for Hunt said: "The FSA has agreed, at the request of the secretary of state for health, to conduct a full safety audit of the facility. They will start in the next 24 hours and report back shortly."

The government has separately been considering proposals to reduce the contamination of fresh chicken with campylobacter by spraying carcasses with acid or flash-freezing their surfaces after processing, The Guardian reported.

In an admission that other measures to clean up the industry have largely failed, the FSA has reportedly looked with the poultry industry at technical fixes to kill the bacteria at the end of the chain before chickens go on sale.

Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen's University Belfast, told the newspaper that most interventions had failed. He said campylobacter contamination continued through the farming, slaughtering and cutting processes, and would have to be tackled with new chemical or freezing processes.

Carcasses are already sprayed with lactic acid in the US, where contamination levels have been high.