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Abattoir cuts despite poor hygiene standards

Katie Coyne22/02/2017 - 15:54

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Quarter of abattoirs fail hygiene tests
Quarter of abattoirs fail hygiene tests

Cuts to FSA abattoir inspections are to go ahead despite growing concerns about failing hygiene standards.  

The Unison union has warned that the FSA’s plans to cut inspections will increase the risk of dirty meat ending up on people’s plates. E-coli food safety campaign group HUSH (Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome Help) has also issued the same warning.

The warnings follow a report in the Observer, which found that 25 per cent of abattoirs are failing hygiene tests.

These included carcasses coming into contact with the factory floor, cutting equipment not being sterilized or washed properly, and meat splashed with dirty water that could potentially contain faecal matter.

Concerns around hygiene standards are being raised as the FSA cuts to auditing services at abattoirs come into force. Plants with two consecutive good audit outcomes will be visited every 36 months rather than every 18. Veterinary auditors that conduct FSA audits are independent from plant inspection teams.

‘Failing hygiene standards in abattoirs mean food poisoning could become the grim reality for consumers,’ warns Unison national officer Paul Bell.

‘The risk of dirty meat ending up on people’s plates will increase further if the Food Standards Agency scraps its independent abattoir inspectors.

‘The FSA has a responsibility to protect the public. That means ensuring slaughterhouses are properly monitored instead of effectively approving their own meat.’

The Observer report was compiled from an analysis of government audits from 323 abattoirs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Steve Nash, co-founder of HUSH, said the inspection service needs to be strengthened not cut. He argued: ‘If you are looking at 25 per cent, it isn’t a very good starting point. Even if you have a very good slaughterhouse - if they know they are not going to be inspected for months their standards could slip.

‘The FSA were talking about using new technology to help cut the inspection times but they haven’t produced anything to show what these [new technologies] are.’

Currently meat is not tested for contamination other than a visual inspection and Mr Nash has called for randomised testing for bacteria. He argued that slaughterhouses not meeting hygiene standards were ‘breaking the law’ and the FSA should be working harder to enforce the legislation.

The Investigation by the Observer team and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism also found that FSA records had been falsified to conceal true levels of meat contamination at an English abattoir. It reported that a whistleblower said contamination data was misrecorded to mask poor hygiene practices.

The FSA responded saying: ‘Following a whistleblowing case, falsification of records was established in one abattoir and action taken, but at no time did this present a risk to public health. The FSA has recently implemented a revised system for capturing contamination data.’

The ‘slaughter hygiene verification system’ was introduced in January this year. An FSA spokesperson told EHN: ‘The revised system assesses hygienic production at all points of the processing line in place of the one point of the processing line assessment carried out under the old system. Only trained staff can participate in these checks to ensure the data is robust and remove potential for errors due to multiple users.’

A statement released by the FSA said that the recent media reports of contaminated meat did not give a ‘complete picture’ of ‘the condition of meat entering the food chain, or on the work done by the FSA to ensure that the meat we eat is safe.’

It added: ‘Our Meat Hygiene Inspectors and Official Veterinarians inspect every red meat and poultry carcass for visible contamination - 99.57per cent of them pass the test. The remaining 0.43 per cent is rejected and passed back to the food business, and they have to rectify the problem. This is the work that our staff do day in, day out, 365 days a year. If it doesn’t pass, then it does not get a health mark and it does not enter the human food chain.’

The FSA statement added that it takes ‘robust enforcement action to ensure food businesses improve their procedures to prevent meat becoming contaminated in the first place.’

The FSA statement said it could take away a premise’s approval to operate if standards if the risk to the public is high and that it has no plans to ‘do away with real time meat inspection’. Any changes, it said, will be done in collaboration with those affected.

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