British poultry companies produce wholesome food to the highest standards of safety and quality.
Most poultry meat is produced by large integrated companies which own and control all links in the production chain, from the parent breeder farms, through processing, to the delivery of the finished chicken or turkey packs to the retailer. This means a very short food chain with full traceability and consistency of controls.
The poultry meat sector does not receive any UK or EU Government subsidies but depends entirely on producing food that people want to buy. Food safety and quality are key to companies’ business survival and great effort and resources are devoted to them. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles are widely followed in British poultry processing plants and on poultry farms and feed mills. Most chicken in the UK are now farmed under the stringent requirements of the Assured Chicken Production Scheme. Similarly most British turkeys are reared and processed in accordance with the standards laid down in the British Turkey Quality Assurance Scheme.
Strict hygiene control programmes on farms, for lorries, and in processing plants have succeeded in substantially reducing food poisoning bacteria such as Salmonella, in particular Salmonella Enteriditis and Salmonella Typhimurium, in poultry over the last few years, such that UK chicken has amongst the lowest levels in the EU.
Underpinning companies’ own HACCP and quality control programmes is a raft of EU and UK food safety related regulations covering rearing, transport, slaughter, and processing. All processing plants must be licensed and must comply with standards of construction, operational hygiene and staff hygiene laid down in Regulations.
Regulations require independent Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVS) and poultry meat inspectors from the Meat Hygiene Service to be present in plants and on the processing line for the whole time the plants are operating. The OVS supervises the official health and welfare checks of all live birds entering the plant, the stunning and slaughter process, and the hygiene and food safety inspections of the poultry for health marking. The OVS also inspects the plant itself. Companies’ own staff who have been trained by the OVS and certified by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, may assist and form part of the official inspection team.
Hygiene Assessment Scores are published monthly by the Food Standards Agency for every UK licensed plant. The UK is the only country to publish the ongoing hygiene status of meat and poultry meat processing plants
Various Regulations cover all aspects of poultry meat production including grading standards, wrapping and packaging, weights, labelling, temperature, transport and storage conditions. Regulations require regular official testing of poultry meat and also of poultry feed to detect any traces of residues of veterinary products which might have been administered to the birds on the farm. The results of this extensive residue testing programme are published quarterly by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Very small, mainly seasonal processing plants are regulated and inspected by Local Authorities.
The whole poultry production chain, from the farms and feed mills to the finished poultry meat products leaving the processing plants, is subject to independent examination and auditing either under the sector’s own assurance schemes, or under official regulatory inspection and testing programmes with published results. This adds up to the highest level of assurance and transparency of safe and wholesome poultry meat for UK consumers.