M&S, Tesco and Aldi to resume taking supplies from food plant in West Bromwich which was shut down following a Guardian/ITV investigation
The scandal-ridden 2 Sisters Food Group chicken factory in West Bromwich is to resume production next week after “significant changes” at the plant and the introduction of full-time Food Standards Agency (FSA) officials to oversee its procedures.
The move comes after the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken temporarily shut the plant five weeks ago, following undercover filming by the Guardian and ITV News that revealed poor hygiene standards and food safety records being altered.
Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Aldi said they would resume taking supplies from the factory, where a team of M&S technologists had been working on site and as “the FSA will have a full-time presence at the site to support the 2 Sisters management team”.
Marks & Spencer said: “We have assessed the changes made at the site by 2 Sisters and are confident it can meet our high production standards. We will work closely with the site’s management team and the FSA in the coming weeks.”
Tesco added: “Following the retraining programme carried out by 2 Sisters at its West Bromwich site, we can confirm we will begin to receive orders from the site again in the coming days.
“We are satisfied the issues have been addressed and work will now be carried out to our high production standards. We’ll continue to work with 2 Sisters and the FSA as the site gets back up and running.”
Aldi said: “As a result of the remedial measures 2 Sisters Food Group have put in place we are satisfied that all issues have been resolved.”
A spokesman for 2 Sisters said: “We can confirm that following comprehensive retraining sessions with all colleagues during October, we are restarting production at our site D facility in West Bromwich (w/c 6 November).
“This will be phased over the coming weeks, working closely with our customers in the process.
“We would like to thank our colleagues at the site who have acted with understanding and professionalism during this unsettling period.”
The reopening is a welcome piece of news for the site’s 850 workers, who have been retrained following the scandal and whose jobs were at risk without changes being made to the running of the plant.
The announcement is also timely for the food company, which is scheduled to announce its financial results to investors on Tuesday. The closure of the plant was costing the company £500,000 a week.
In September, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl all announced they had suspended deliveries from the West Bromwich factory immediately after the airing of the undercover footage, and they were followed over the next two days by Sainsbury’s and Tesco. M&S said the video showed “unacceptable” standards and also pulled chicken sourced from the plant from its shelves.
Sainsbury’s said it had no plans to resume supplies from the West Bromwich factory. Lidl said its position had not changed.
The scandal also led to the group’s founder and chief executive, Ranjit Singh Boparan, being grilled in front of a parliamentary select committee last month, during which he apologised for the crisis and pledged to fund the cost of independent inspectors to police all 12 of his UK chicken sites.
The concessions came during a session of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee, in which Boparan, whose firm produces one-third of all poultry products eaten in the UK, was evasive when quizzed if the company had breached food safety regulations, and repeatedly declined to answer direct questions on the topic.
The inquiry was called after the Guardian and ITV News recorded undercover footage in August showing an instance of 2 Sisters workers altering the source and slaughter date of poultry being processed at the firm’s Site D plant in West Bromwich.
Other 2 Sisters workers have also told the Guardian and ITV News that they have been instructed to alter “kill dates”. Further footage showed chicken being retrieved from the floor of the plant and returned to the production line, plus older chicken being mixed with fresher birds.
Prof Chris Elliott, a food safety academic from Queen’s University Belfast who led the UK government’s independent review of food systems after the 2013 horsemeat scandal, said he had inspected many food businesses in the past four years and had “never seen one operate under such poor standards” as the video evidence showed.
While Boparan apologised for the factory’s problems and admitted that the footage showing the changing of kill dates looked wrong, he contested MPs’ claims that altering the labels was a breach of regulations.
The entrepreneur claimed employees were actually correcting slaughter dates erroneously attached to trays of chicken crowns, although subsequent comments by his technical director, Chris Gilbert-Wood, have been more measured with him telling MPs that this was what “could be” happening in the footage.
The worker shown changing the kill dates has been dismissed, after the company instigated disciplinary proceedings citing allegations he had breached food safety regulations.
2 Sisters Food Group is the UK’s second-largest food processing company by turnover and claims to handle about 6m chickens every week.