The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defended its handling of the Russell Hume investigation amid calls for clarification.
Last week the government body stopped products from leaving the meat, game and poultry specialist’s sites, following an unannounced inspection of its Birmingham operation on 12 January.
It said the shutdown was due to “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations” but did not release further information.
In an update issued on Friday, three days after steaks were pulled from JD Wetherspoon menus, the FSA said it had acted due to “concerns about procedures and processes around use by dates”.
Tony Lewis, head of policy for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health called for more information to be made available.
He told The Caterer: “There’s still a need for new information.
“I can understand potentially there’s a court case that will follow and they cannot do anything that will prejudice a court case. While recognising that position, I do think there’s more information that they can in fact provide.
“I think that’s important for consumers to be able to assure themselves that what they have eaten and where they have eaten it from are safe and they are at no risk. That’s important for consumers, it’s equally important for businesses to know full well that stock that they may have is safe.”
Companies supplied by the company include Jamie Oliver’s restaurants and Hilton Hotels as well as JD Wetherspoon, Greene King and Marston’s pub chains.
A Wetherspoon spokesman said the company was also forced to act with little information.
He explained: “Despite numerous attempts by Wetherspoon, Russell Hume were not forthcoming with useful information which would have enabled us to communicate better with our customers.”
The FSA has said that in the 12 days following its initial inspection of the firm’s Birmingham site six others were visited, adding that it did not take decisions to stop production lightly.
It insisted that public health was its top priority, adding that there was no indication people had become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume.
Jason Feeney, chief executive officer of the FSA said: “We do recognise the potential impact of our decisions on business and peoples’ livelihoods. In the Russell Hume case our own unannounced inspection at one site gave us some cause for concern about non-compliance with food hygiene regulations, it was not triggered by any reports of ill-health.
“We then looked right across this UK-wide business and concluded that the non-compliance was serious and widespread enough to advise stopping all production at Russell Hume plants and initiate a withdrawal of products. We worked with the company to get this done as quickly and effectively as possible and our actions have been proportionate based on the evidence we have obtained.”
Russell Hume said the investigation had come as a “serious shock” pointing to an “unblemished” record.
In a statement the firm said: “Our customers are at the heart of our business and there has never been a suggestion of any Russell Hume-supplied product causing illness.”
It continued to complain that the FSA had “unfortunately” created a “very different impression”.
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