Bernard Matthews has rejected accusations of serious food safety breaches at one of its turkey processing plants – due to be uncovered on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme tonight.
The Boparan Private Office -owned turkey giant will be the focus of the episode ‘How Safe Is Your Turkey?’ on Channel 4 at 7.30pm.
It is understood the investigation – based on undercover filming at Bernard Matthews’ Holton processing plant in Suffolk – will focus on a series of alleged food safety breaches at the site, discovered by an undercover reporter using covert filming.
Issues that could be highlighted in the documentary – which is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge by Bernard Matthews’ lawyers – include a number of alleged hygiene regulation breaches along with health and safety concerns.
Documentary makers are also understood to have approached Bernard Matthews’ retail customers to ask them if they will continue to stock turkey from the Holton site in light of the investigation’s claims.
However, Bernard Matthews stressed the site – which completed a comprehensive five-day independent investigation earlier this week that concluded there were no rule infringements – had also been subjected to a full FSA inspection on 4 and 5 December, with no food safety breaches found.
Bernard Matthews’ regular food safety inspections
The supplier added the facility had been subject to more than 40 such inspections by the regulator over the past 11 months.
Neither Channel 4 nor the investigation’s producer Hardcash Productions – which recently produced an exposé on allegations related to entertainer Russell Brand – had responded to The Grocer’s request for comment at the time of publication.
A Channel 4 scheduling note on its website said the documentary would “investigate food safety concerns at one producer” ahead of the poultry sector’s festive rush – which will see nine million turkeys sold across Britain.
A confidential source with knowledge of the investigation told The Grocer the Dispatches probe was “unfair” on Bernard Matthews.
“It’s a cooked-up festive scare story that doesn’t hold water. This factory has been audited to death in the past year, let alone the past month. You’ve got auditors, customers and regulators crawling all over the place.”
The “great revelation of this programme apparently boils down to one or two staff being slack on frozen process record-keeping, and they need a more thorough induction course”, they added.
A Bernard Matthews spokesman said the supplier “wholeheartedly rejects the central thrust of this proposed Dispatches programme and condemns the tactics it employs”.
He added that Channel 4 “has set out to create a food scare story where none exists. Not only is this a gross slur on more than a thousand incredibly hard-working colleagues at this factory, it unfairly undermines our entire sector”.
Food safety is highly regulated
He said: “The facts are clear. Our products are safe: our independent five-day investigation says they’re safe and our regulator says they’re safe. Our 24/7 CCTV cameras show they’re safe. We can confidently reassure customers and consumers that our products remain safe.
“Ours is a highly regulated industry and, in keeping with other food processors, we’ve welcomed over 40 separate and independent inspections in the past 11 months. The FSA carried out full inspections as recently as 4 and 5 December.”
Responding to the allegations made by the documentary, Junior Johnson, chief operating officer at the FSA, confirmed no breaches had been discovered.
“Food businesses are the first line of defence in ensuring food is safe,” he said.
“As soon as the allegations were put to us, we sent an official veterinarian into the plant to carry out a full check of records and operating procedures. This did not identify any food safety breaches, but we are continuing to look into the issues raised by the programme. We will not hesitate to take action if needed to ensure consumers are protected.”
The Grocer understands the business has not ruled out taking further action should the episode air as planned tonight.