Rotting meat may have been sold by unwitting supermarkets for years

·3-min read
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Rotten meat may have been unwittingly sold by supermarkets for years, it is claimed, with an alleged rogue supplier now at the centre of a criminal investigation.

Leading supermarket chains were on Wednesday night carrying out urgent checks to make sure that products containing meat processed by the company in question were no longer on shelves.

Ready meals, sandwiches, quiches and other produce sold in Tesco, Asda, the Co-op, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer contained meat produced by the Midlands-based firm, which cannot be named for legal reasons. Its factory also supplied the food manufacturer Oscar Mayer, whose customers include Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Ikea, Subway and the airline food firm Dnata.

Retailers were on Wednesday “double checking” that none of the factory’s products remained on shelves or in supply chains, according to one industry source, though the factory is currently closed and retailers are said to be confident there are no current food safety issues.

An investigation by Farmers Weekly magazine alleged that “rotting” pork was mixed with fresh meat before it was processed, and that frozen meat was sometimes thawed out on the factory floor.

One source told the magazine that most rotten meat would be sent to schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons. The magazine alleged that “criminal practices” had gone on for “at least two decades” and are thought to have carried on beyond 2020.

Retailers only became aware of the allegations of rotten meat in the supply chain when Farmers Weekly published its investigation on Wednesday.

Three arrests made

Last week, three people were arrested at the firm’s factory during a raid by police and trading standards officers.

The arrests were linked to alleged mislabelling of foreign-sourced meat as British produce, but the Food Standards Agency has confirmed that its National Food Crime Unit is also looking into “potential food hygiene breaches”.

The Food Standards Agency alerted retailers and suppliers in January last year about the apparent mislabelling of food by an unnamed supplier to a single unnamed retailer. The alert said at the time that “there is no conclusive evidence at this stage that any other supply contracts linked to this business, for example to other retailers, have been similarly affected but this has not been ruled out”.

The retailer in question immediately removed all relevant products from sale and ceased trading with the meat processor.

In its alert in 2022, the FSA advised businesses to increase their “due diligence” and check their cooked meat supply chain.

Norman Bagley, head of operations at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, claimed that not all food businesses had been alerted by the FSA and said it was “inexcusable” that some were left in the dark about “a possibility of labelling fraud or of a risk to public health”.

Claims foreign pork passed off as British

Farmers Weekly alleged that tens of thousands of tonnes of foreign pork per week was being passed off as British, and that ox tongues were not properly heat treated and records were falsified.

The magazine reported that the FSA had been aware of alleged problems at the factory since 2020 but claimed that one source had sent evidence to the FSA several years before that.

Former employees claimed the deception had gone on for at least two decades and one said they had feared “we’re going to kill someone”.

Darren Davies, head of the National Food Crime Unit, said: “The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit is carrying out a criminal investigation into how a supplier was allegedly providing products labelled as British when they were in fact sourced from elsewhere.

“This is a complex and live investigation and we are looking into all new lines of enquiry with our partner organisations, including any potential food hygiene breaches at the premises. If any evidence of a food safety risk is found, then necessary action will be taken.”