Essex slaughterhouse prosecuted by FSA

An Essex slaughterhouse has been found guilty of breaching food hygiene regulations by transporting meat that was over the 7°C temperature threshold.

A judge found Elmkirk Limited guilty of eight charges of delivering meat that was above temperature, and ordered it to pay £12,000 in fines and costs of £26,000.

Seven of the offences concerned delivery of meat from Elmkirk Limited to wholesalers at Smithfield Market, with one further offence concerning delivery to a premises in Leeds.

The prosecution was brought by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which confirmed that Elmkirk Limited had previously had approval to transport warm (more than 7°C) meat to premises in Smithfield but that this had been withdrawn. Elmkirk Limited was therefore found guilty of continuing to make these deliveries without the necessary authorisation.

The FSA said that the Leeds journey was in excess of two hours and the meat should have been chilled and kept chilled before and during transportation.

However, Elmkirk defended itself, telling the Meat Trades Journal that food safety was not compromised and that they had been prosecuted for transporting fresh pork to Smithfield that was within the allowed two-hour dispensation period. It said that in the case of the Leeds transportation, this had been the result of a fridge breaking down.

A statement from the company’s directors said: “Elmkirk is disappointed that the court ruling has gone against the company, it is the first time we have had any court proceeding used against it by the FSA.

“It was the two-hour dispensation rule point of law that was debated in court, not specific food safety issues. It was even stressed in court by the prosecution that there was “no significant risk to public health”.

“We would like to stress that there was no food safety compromised in any way and therefore no consumers were put at risk. The meat concerned was never condemned by the FSA or the official at Smithfiled Market, it was used in the food chain under consent of the FSA and the officials at Smithfield.”

Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA said that the FSA would always take action to to protect consumer health, including pursuing prosecution through the courts.

He said: "In this case the judge found Elmkirk Limited guilty of these offences and fined them. It is highly irresponsible for food businesses to regard legislation which requires meat to be maintained at a safe temperature, as a legal technicality. It is the responsibility of food businesses to comply with the law and there is no excuse for an individual company to take short cuts with food safety."

Under European Union food hygiene regulations, red meat carcases must be chilled at the slaughterhouse immediately after the post-mortem inspection by FSA officials, to ensure a temperature of not more than 7°C throughout the meat. Unless otherwise authorised by the FSA, it must attain this temperature before being transported and remain at the temperature during transportation.

However, companies can obtain a limited exception to this regulation, the “two hour rule” wherby “over-temperature” or “hot meat” can be transported if specifically authorised by the FSA, providing that the transportation takes no more than two hours and complies with specified requirements.  

Elmkirk Ltd previously held permission to transport over-temperature meat to premises in Smithfield, but this had been withdrawn and the company was found guilty of continuing to make deliveries without the necessary authorisation.

The FSA argued in court that the two hour rule was not a general waiver and that it is necessary in the interests of food safety to impose conditions on this transportation to ensure that the premises to which the meat was being transported would be able to chill over-temperature meat to a safe temperature and then maintain it in that condition.

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