A UK meat processor that supplies leading supermarkets, schools and hospitals has been accused of passing off huge quantities of potentially unsafe foreign meat as British.
The National Food Crime Unit, which is part of the Food Standards Agency, is understood to have begun a major investigation.
Consumers have been kept in the dark about the potentially huge scandal, and a key industry trade body is furious that it was not told about the investigation.
The details have emerged some ten years after a crisis in which horse meat was passed off as beef and sold in burgers and ready meals by leading supermarkets, including Tesco, and fast food chains.
The allegations have been revealed by the magazine Farmers Weekly and are based on the testimony of workers employed by the company, which has not been named pending a possible prosecution.
The firm has been accused by former staff of regularly washing hams that were visibly off, and mixing rotting pork with fresh product for further processing.
Other products such as ox tongues were not heat-treated properly, and meat was sometimes thawed out on the factory floor
Other products such as ox tongues were not heat-treated properly, and meat was sometimes thawed out on the factory floor.
It is also alleged that paperwork for sampling, which would pick up dangerous food bugs such as listeria and E coli, was falsified.
Schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons were supplied via wholesalers, with one source alleging that the most rotten meat would end up there.
One anonymous employee told Farmers Weekly: ‘It used to get me to a point where I’d be thinking, “We’re going to kill someone”.’
Another said: ‘There were days I’d sit outside in my car crying because I didn’t want to go in. It was that bad.’
There is no suggestion that any of the processor’s customers were aware of the criminal practices, which took place for at least two decades through to 2020 and possibly beyond.
Darren Davies, head of the National Food Crime Unit, said retailers were told about the problem last year. However, there was no public announcement.
Schools, hospitals, care homes and prisons were also supplied via wholesalers, with one source alleging that the most rotten meat would end up there (Stock Image)
He added: ‘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.
‘The FSA advised retailers last year to check their cooked meat supply chain and to apply extra due diligence in their checks. We don’t give out these alerts without a reason.’
The food wholesale firms that were supplied by the processor have expressed shock at the allegations and are carrying out their own investigations.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, which represents processors, accused the National Food Crime Unit of failing to alert it to the investigation.
Norman Bagley, its group head of operations, said: ‘It is inexcusable that food manufacturers and food service businesses, some of whom supply some of society’s most vulnerable consumers, were not alerted at any time to date by the NFCU as to there either being a possibility of labelling fraud or of a risk to public health.’