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Second 2 Sisters chicken processing plant may have breached food regulations

A factory inspection for the supermarket giant Tesco shows that a second chicken processing plant in the 2 Sisters Food Group was potentially breaching food regulations designed to protect consumers

Leaked documents show that the supermarket’s audit team gave a “red” warning to the Coupar Angus factory in Scotland after uncovering “major” issues of non-compliance in five different areas.

The report was part of a series of emergency inspections carried out by Tesco after ITV News and the Guardian uncovered problems at the 2 Sisters factory in West Bromwich, Site D, which lead to its temporary closure.

The results raise serious questions about how widespread bad practice was at 2 Sisters poultry operations. The company runs 12 chicken-processing plants and is the UK’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken.

As part of our original undercover investigation at West Bromwich, we filmed several instances of chicken from the factory floor being thrown back onto the production line. We also recorded one instance of staff changing both the slaughter dates and the source codes on crates of meat.

The inspections by Tesco have not found evidence of either practice taking place elsewhere but at least one has revealed significant failures.

The audit at Coupar Angus raised concerns about "traceability" - an essential regulatory requirement, designed to protect the public. Meat processing companies are legally obliged to meticulously record when chicken is slaughtered, where it comes from and where it ends up.

The Coupar Angus chicken factory in Scotland. Credit: ITV News

During a two day long inspection at Coupar Angus, Tesco identified several occasions where that process appeared to have broken down:

  • 2 Sisters staff could not show what had happened to 250 crates of chicken that had been returned by a customer and earmarked for disposal
  • Inspectors found crates of meat with double labels, some with old labels and others with no labels at all. Labels are the main way of recording how fresh chicken is
  • A computer on the factory floor wasn’t password protected, theoretically allowing anyone there to change the use-by dates on meat.

We shared the findings of the audit with Professor Chris Elliott, the scientist who lead the inquiry into the horse-meat scandal.

Professor Elliott told us:

Major systems failures are being flagged-up (by the audit).

They are not simple things that are minor problems, these are major problems.

Traceability is incredibly important in food safety because if something goes wrong, if people get ill, you’ve got to track that back very quickly to find the source.

– Professor Chris Elliott

Tesco inspectors gave Coupar Angus the "red" rating after unearthing five compliance issues that it categorised as "major" - which the supermarket defines as "a deficiency which requires prompt attention to prevent a potential food safety failure or legal issue form arising".

Fewer than 1% of supplier sites receive a "red" rating during a Tesco audit - the worst score in the internal, colour-coded safety and quality compliance system which Tesco has devised.

ITV News understands that Coupar Angus was not the only 2 Sisters factory to be given a “red” warning by Tesco following our investigation.

In October the owner of 2 Sisters, Ranjit Singh Boparan, was summoned to appear before MPs as part of an inquiry triggered by our investigation.

He apologised for the problems at West Bromwich, insisted that his company had “high standards” and promised change. Mr Boparan also told MPs that parts of our original report had been misleading.

2 sisters owner Ranjit Singh Boparan.

Mr Boparan declined our offer of an interview.

In statement 2 Sisters Food Group said:

ITV and The Guardian are referring to standard inspection audits and appear to be trying to damage the reputation of our factories and potentially the livelihoods of 23,000 colleagues by misrepresenting them.

There is and never was any risk to food safety at Coupar Angus.

This is using old news to highlight issues which were resolved with our customer two months ago.

– 2 Sisters Food Group

They continued that the crates of meat that the auditors had failed to trace had not been dispatched to customers, and added that the factory computer had been relocated and made more secure.

Tesco declined our offer of an interview. In a statement the supermarket said:

Nothing is more important to Tesco than the safety of the food we sell.

Our inspections highlighted a number of inadequate processes at (Coupar Angus) including labelling, segregation, traceability and recording.

We insisted these were addressed immediately to prevent any food safety issues.

– Tesco statement

Food regulations are designed to protect consumers. The Food Standards Agency is still investigating whether they were broken at 2 Sisters.

Tesco says it has shared the findings of its inspections with the FSA.

2 Sisters released on Tuesday details of audits and inspections at its chicken processing sites.