The 'public health risk' in the meat industry

Credit: ITV News
  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

A former meat inspector has told ITV News that poor hygiene and ineffective regulations have left consumers at risk.

The claims come as part of a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV News, which shows more than a quarter of abattoirs failed to meet a key hygiene standard.

There are fears that it could lead to outbreaks of food poisoning.

Around 98 percent of the UK population eat meat which is a £7.3bn industry.

The investigation revealed new evidence of poor hygiene practices and claims of a risk to public health.

One industry insider worked as a meat inspector for 20 years and told ITV News:

"I think it's an inherent lack of enforcement over a number of years where the industry has just constantly got away by pushing and bullying and harassing staff.

He added, "some of the plants I've been into you've got five or six seconds to inspect the animal, you can be letting through parasites, you can be letting through contamination".

Contamination and parasites could lead to E. coli bacteria in meat causing food poisoning if it isn't thoroughly cooked.

The insider who wished to remain anonymous says staff often spread potential contamination by walking from the dirty area in pens to the clean areas of the fridges.

The research carried out shows over a quarter of abattoirs in England and Wales and Northern Ireland failed to fully comply with a key hygiene standard - that is an increase from 25 percent five months ago.

Hygiene lapses revealed by the investigation's freedom of information requests include, risk of contamination due to inadequate disinfection, equipment not adequately cleaned and carcasses contaminated during dressing.

Nathan Jones has been campaigning for meat to be better policed after his son died of E. coli poisoning. Credit: ITV News

Nathan Jones has campaigned for meat to be more rigorously policed since his five-year-old son Mason died of E. coli food poisoning.

A coroner in Mason's case called for more spot checks on abattoirs and meat factories.

"There is a number of safe-guarding processes, right the way from the abattoir, right the way through to getting into the food chain itself and if one or two or three of those checks are not being done correctly then it's obviously more likely that this will end up in the food chain."

The findings of the investigation were put to the Food Standards Agency's Head of Regulation.

ITV News asked Rod Ainsworth if the findings were clear signs that the inspection system isn't working properly.

ITV News asked Rod Ainsworth if the investigation findings were signs that the inspection system isn't working. Credit: ITVNews

Mr Ainsworth replied: "Meat that leaves the plant will always be inspected by our staff before it does, if it doesn't follow the rules if it's not compliant it'll be rejected, it won't leave the plant."

This industry says it has the highest standards in the world but this new evidence of hygiene short falls could worry many of its customers.