The Food Standards Agency has stopped meat from leaving Russell Hume sites due to “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations”.
The meat, game and poultry specialist’s Birmingham site was the subject of an unannounced inspection on 12 January. The FSA has since announced it will launch investigations across all the butcher’s sites in England, Scotland and Wales.
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.
The FSA said: “Russell Hume were unable to demonstrate compliance with food hygiene rules at its locations, so we have stopped any product from leaving their sites until the business can provide assurances that they are complying with the relevant legislation, and that they are producing safe food. We have also instructed Russell Hume to undertake a withdrawal of all affected product in the supply chain.
“There is no indication that people have become ill from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume. However, we are concerned about the poor practices in place at their premises so that is why we have taken proportionate action to ensure no meat can leave their sites at present. We are continuing to assess the situation.”
A spokesperson for Jamie Oliver restaurants said: “All Russell Hume meat was removed from restaurants as soon as we were notified on Monday. This was a day before the FSA asked for meat to be removed. We also switched suppliers.
“We have very strict higher welfare and food standards and to ensure our suppliers uphold these standards, we have an independent team that audits all our key suppliers, including meat. Following an inspection at the end of last year and the fact we have full traceability on our meat, we are confident that none of the meat we buy would have been impacted.”
Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “ We took the decision on Monday to withdraw sirloin steak, rump steak and gammon steak from our menu.
“We had been made aware of problems at our supplier, Russell Hume, although they were not forthcoming with very much information.
“However, we felt that things weren’t right and as a result immediately stopped our pubs from serving those three menu items.
“It has since been announced that the FSA has made a full report on the company, however, we were not aware of this at the time of our decision.”
The pub chain said it is looking for an alternative supplier and hopes to be offering its complete menu within seven days.
A spokesperson for Greene King said: “We only take a handful of products from Russell Hume and have contingency plans in place which means we can continue to serve our customers as normal.”
A Marston’s spokesperson said: “As you would expect we have contingency plans in place for situations such as this and a business such as ours has multiple suppliers, however we are liaising closely with the FSA and Russell Hume.”
A spokesperson for Hilton Hotels said: “We can confirm that a small number of Hilton hotels in the UK were supplied by Russell Hume, and following advice from the FSA, the hotels acted immediately to dispose of all products supplied by the company. The safety and security of guests is our primary concern, and we uphold stringent food safety standards in all of our hotels.”
The investigation came to light after The Sun reported that JD Wetherspoon had cancelled steak nights across its pubs. Russell Hume also supplies hospitality and catering businesses, care homes and schools.
A spokesperson for Russell Hume told the BBC the recall was a “precautionary measure because of mislabelling”.
It added: “We have no reason to believe that the product was unsafe to eat.”
The FSA said the business, which has taken its website offline, is co-operating with its investigation as well as reviewing procedures and retraining staff.
But, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has called for the FSA to provide clarification about the circumstances of the investigation.
Head of policy Tony Lewis said: “The public has been kept in the dark about the extent of the problem, and the statements made by the respective parties simply do not add up.
“It now transpires that Russell Hume has been under investigation for 12 days, and the public will want to know what the FSA has been doing in that timeframe. Can the FSA now guarantee that no unsafe meat has already entered the food chain from this source?
“The FSA must put consumers first and properly explain the situation and their actions. We need to know the full range of products affected and the extent of distribution across the UK.”
The institute has called for an independent review of the FSA’s processes and procedures in light of the investigations into both Russell Hume and 2 Sisters.