Questions raised over Russell Hume meat crisis

Article source: http://www.ehn-online.com/news/

A major supplier of meat to schools, care homes and retail chains including Wetherspoon’s and the Jamie Oliver Group is under suspicion of serious food safety offences after all its meat supplies were recalled earlier this week.

Suspected breaches of hygiene and labelling regulations were initially discovered on 12 January following an unannounced inspection of Russell Hume’s Birmingham plant.

Russell Hume is a Derby-based meat supplier with seven sites across the UK describing itself as ‘one of the UK’s leading meat specialists providing’. The company had a turnover £129 million in 2015.

It was nine days after the initial inspection that the FSA placed a stop on any meat leaving any Russell Hume plant and asked for all unused meat supplied by the firm to be withdrawn from outlets, including hospitality and catering businesses, care homes and schools.

In a statement the FSA said: ‘Following an unannounced inspection of Russell Hume’s Birmingham site on 12 January, we became aware of instances of serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations.

‘This has led us and Food Standards Scotland to investigate all Russell Hume sites, and other locations where their product is stored, in England, Scotland and Wales. Russell Hume were unable to demonstrate compliance with food hygiene rules at its locations, so we have stopped any product from leaving their sites until the business can provide assurances that they are complying with the relevant legislation.’

The delay between the FSA discovering a problem at the firm’s Birmingham plant and the withdrawal of the suspect meat has raised questions around how events unfolded.

Signs that there was something wrong first started to appear when social media went onto ferment after Wetherspoon’s withdrew all its steaks nationally on Tuesday night, which just happened to be the pub chains ‘steak night’.

‘It is essential that the FSA provides clarification about what exactly has happened at Russsell Hume,’ said Tony Lewis, CIEH head of policy. ‘As the statements made by the respective parties simply do not add up.

‘Russell Hume has been under investigation for 12 days, and the public will want to know what breaches of the food hygiene regulations are they talking about, what action have they taken and can the FSA guarantee that no unsafe meat has entered the food chain from this source?’

The FSA must put consumers first and properly explain the situation. The public needs to know the full range of products affected and teh extent of distribution across the UK,' added Mr Lewis.

Russel Hume is proving difficult to contact while its website went offline yesterday. However, it did release a press statement to ITV reporters on Wednesday.

It states the actions of the FSA had ‘come as a serious shock’. It adds the company was ‘well aware of the strict controls over the sale and supply of food’ and that it has had regular FSA and other agency visits and audits where their ‘practices and compliance have never been challenged like this... there has never been a suggestion of any Russell Hume-supplied product causing illness.

‘Unfortunately, the FSA actions and its notice have created a very different impression.’ The company also says it is cooperating fully with the FSA, but cannot comment on the investigations since they are ongoing.

The FSA statement also confirms that ‘there is no indication that people have become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume’.

The FSA goes on to say: ‘However, we are concerned about the poor practices in place at their premises so that is why we have taken proportionate action to ensure no meat can leave their sites at present. We are continuing to assess the situation.’

Outlets impacted by the effective shut down of Russel Hume have found new suppliers. The firms supplied by the firm include: Wetherspoon’s, Jamie’s Italian, Tiger Tiger, Marston’s pubs, and Butlins.

Following the 2Sisters investigation this is the second food safety incident involving a major supplier in as many months.

‘These incidents demonstrate the importance of robust, regular and unannounced, inspections of these kind of establishments by competent environmental health professionals.’

An FSA spokesperson told EHN the agency is unable to comment beyond its released statement as it may prejudice the investigation.

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