Ranjit Singh Boparan, the chief executive of 2 Sisters Food Group, has apologised in front of MPs for the hygiene breaches shown in undercover filming taken at the company’s West Bromwich cutting plant.
In particular, he said produce that had fallen on the floor being returned to production lines “absolutely should not have happened”.
But Mr Singh was less clear about one part of the film that suggested dates on poultry had been changed, explaining that investigations had so far failed to pin down exactly what was happening. The member of staff in the footage had failed to cooperate with investigations and had been dismissed as a result, he said.
His technical director, Chris Gilbert-Wood, suggested it was probably a worker correctly changing the kill date at the beginning of a shift. To avoid doubt, the company has introduced a 2-minute break in production lines between chicken of different kill dates.
In light of the scandal, Mr Singh said the company would double its routine staff training to 8 hours and increase its frequency, install constantly monitored CCTV across all plants and place “mystery workers” on factory floors to monitor standards.
Mr Singh also welcomed the suggestion that FSA inspectors should be present at all sites for a period at the company’s cost.
The 2 Sisters boss was summoned to an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs enquiry following a Guardian/ITV investigation into its West Bromwich plant. An undercover reporter worked 12 shifts at the site over the summer and found a number of alleged food hygiene breaches.
At times the hearing became heated, with Mr Singh defending standards at his company, and denying a culture of cost cutting had been instrumental to his success. “I cannot accept that we have low standards,” he explained, inviting the committee to visit the site unannounced for a tour.
Chair of the Efra select committee, Neil Parish MP, said he accepted Mr Singh’s assurance that he would improve the plant, saying: “I believe that you are going to put this right and restore confidence to us, retailers and consumers.”
But he warned that if a similar story emerged again Mr Singh would be “held to account”.
Earlier in the hearing regulatory bodies and assurance scheme bosses also appeared in front of the committee. Mr Parish accused all of being culpable in failing to uncover the failure in standards that a reporter had found in just 12 shifts.
A 2 Sisters spokesman later added that the company planned to release a “line by line” explanation for each allegation made by the Guardian and ITV, once its internal investigations had concluded.