Nothing says it’s Christmas quite like a scandal in a turkey factory – which is something Channel 4’s Dispatches attempted to convince us of last week in a special festive edition asking ‘How Safe is Your Turkey?’.

“For many of us, Christmas isn’t complete without a delicious roast turkey,” said presenter Kate Quilton on Friday evening’s episode, echoing her cheery demeanour on Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped.

But this appearance by Quilton, complete with said “delicious roast turkey” and a suitably festive dining room set, was no jaunty peek behind the veil of food production. It was altogether more sinister.

Dispatches had been contacted by “a whistleblower working at one of the country’s biggest turkey producers, Bernard Matthews Foods”, who claimed alleged long-standing food safety problems at one of its factories “could be putting the public’s health at risk”, Quilton said – before adding: “So we’re going to investigate.”

What followed were the results of a covert investigation by two undercover journalists who secured jobs at Bernard Matthews’s Holton factory in Suffolk, and revealed a litany of alleged “serious food safety failings” at the facility.

These “failings” included evidence purporting to show workers falsifying the results of safety checks on frozen foods “aimed at children”, in addition to a series of examples of poor hygiene – including a cleaner touching a turkey production line with the same gloves he was using to clear waste from the floor.

Staff safety also came under the spotlight – something the documentary makers were keen to stress had been an issue for Bernard Matthews in the past – as it cited a £400,000 fine last year after a worker was left paralysed following an accident. And if that wasn’t enough, the threat of plastic and metal contamination from the factory’s ageing equipment was also exposed as a big risk to consumers.

Channel 4’s recent turkey exposé

Food safety experts Sterling Crew and Richard Hyde then warned such breaches could be offences, before the documentary ensured food safety revelations from 2017 at 2 Sisters Food Group were dug up – in an unsubtle attempt to suggest owner Ranjit Singh Boparan (who also owns Bernard Matthews) had the same structural issues in other parts of his empire.

Much as these claims were concerning and should be addressed by Bernard Matthews, however, it quickly became apparent the link to Christmas from this investigation was tenuous. At best.

Read more: Bernard Matthews slams Channel 4 Dispatches over ‘scare story’ investigation

Though the business is known for its range of whole turkeys and crowns in the run-up to Christmas, the investigation’s revelations instead focused on those well-known Christmas dinner (or not) staples: the turkey unicorn, dinosaur and mini kiev.

And perhaps understandably, the premise of the investigation and the claims made by the documentary – which was developed by the same company that produced Channel 4’s recent exposé on allegations related to entertainer Russell Brand – were given short shrift by Bernard Matthews.

It launched a legal challenge against the claims last week, accusing Channel 4 of creating “a food scare story where none exists”.

Speaking ahead of broadcast, a spokesman added the business “wholeheartedly rejects the central thrust of this proposed Dispatches programme and condemns the tactics it employs”.

A source with knowledge of the situation was even more frank, labelling the documentary a “cooked-up festive scare story that doesn’t hold water”.

Bernard Matthews investigation ‘gross slur’

But perhaps the most compelling evidence to emerge from this entire affair is the fact that Bernard Matthews undertook an independent investigation which found no breaches of food safety breaches.

This was then given further credence by an FSA probe, which, according to the regulator’s chief operating officer Junior Johnson last week, “confirmed no breaches had been discovered”.

However, he did also stress “we are continuing to look into the issues raised by the programme”, and “will not hesitate to take action if needed to ensure consumers are protected”.

So after all of that, just what do we have?

As far as Bernard Matthews is concerned, the investigation was a “gross slur on more than a thousand incredibly hard-working colleagues at this factory, [and] it unfairly undermines our entire sector”.

“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,” added a spokesman for the business.

While the documentary shows a very clear need for Bernard Matthews to improve some working practices, training and even modernise its facilities, the documentary and its producers failed to land that killer blow proving the supplier was guilty of any more serious offences.

And with the FSA giving the business essentially a clean bill of health, the programme felt like it failed to fully answer its own question around the safety of Christmas turkey. With no smoking gun, this probe felt like a bit of a fishing expedition instead.