Food giant 2 sister has been rocked by a hygiene scandal, which forced their West Bromwich plant to cease production.
They face a huge challenge to recover from this news, which has put them into a very difficult position.
Brought before MPs
Adrian Bailey, the Labour MP for West Bromwich West, has brought the scandal before Parliament amid fears that food standards may have been ignored. If this is the case then it will be severely damaging for 2 Sisters, who are already in a precarious position.
Bailey says that big questions now need to be asked about how we monitor food production firms, and how checks are carried out to ensure the right practices are being followed.
"Obviously there are serious issues around food hygiene and proper processes,” he says. "I have sympathy with the staff who may be completely innocent of wrongdoing but face the prospect of losing their jobs. At the end of the day, food hygiene and health is paramount. It seems to me action as drastic as this (suspending production) was taken for a reason. It is amazing a company of this size and experience should have allowed itself to get into this position. It is profoundly damaging for the company and the brand as well. It is a really serious issue of public concern."
Crisis after scandal
The hygiene scandal has already affected 2 Sisters hugely, with retailers such as M&S, Tesco, and Sainsburys cancelling their orders immediately after it surfaced. The issue arose when undercover footage from the Dial Lane plant came to light, which showed chickens being picked up off the floor and put back on the production line. It also showed slaughter and sell-by dates being changed on the packaging.
2 Sisters produces around a third of the chicken eaten in the UK, but they have now suspended production at their headquarters. The firm, which is headed by tycoon Ranjit Singh Boparan, announced that they were immediately halting lines in order to switch to staff training until they were sure that procedures would be followed properly.
"I think this needs to go before Parliament to see whether any lessons can be learned and what steps can be taken to monitor companies and ensure this cannot happen," added Mr Bailey. "I think the company can survive but only if it is subject to total change of management and a comprehensive staff training policy to give reassurance to the supermarkets. It is a big challenge but the key is being able to satisfy the supermarkets in the future it is a company that meets the standards the major retailers demand."
The scandal is certainly one of the biggest that has hit the food production industry in recent years, particularly with a focus on the UK rather than overseas issues. It’s clear that 2 Sisters will have had a policy of throwing away dropped food, but it seems that staff felt it was fine to ignore these rules to continue production. Whether that was a problem with management, with training, or simply a misunderstanding, is something we will probably never know – unless someone can capture that information undercover as well.
It’s clear a serious issue, and anyone working in food hygiene would be shocked to hear the story. Produce dropped on the floor is usually one of the cardinal issues targeted by hygiene policies, and a key part of employee training. How this was allowed to happen remains to be seen, but 2 Sisters certainly won’t be making that mistake again any time soon if they can help it.