Andrew Livingston highlights a recent Channel 4 documentary exposing the concerning food safety and standards at a Bernard Matthews’ factory
Talking turkey in January is probably a bit of a sacrilege. Mind you, if you are actually still eating a Christmas leftover turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich as you read this, I would be seriously concerned about your oncoming bowel movements!
Despite its synonymity with Christmas, turkey is, in fact, available all year round – most children grow up eating breaded frozen turkey, probably in the shape of a dinosaur (although I’m thrilled to report you can now buy turkey unicorns too!)
One of the biggest producers of turkey in the country is Bernard Matthews. If you’re over 45 you’re probably already hearing a throaty Norfolk voice booming ‘Boootiful’ from your TV set. If you’re younger and denying all knowledge … where have you been? For a start, I know you know the turkey dinosaurs.
The firm also employs more than 2,000 people at its farms and factories, most of which are in Norfolk.
My reason for talking turkey today is simple; I feel as though the news that broke last month about Bernard Matthews just didn’t make the noisy splash it definitely should have done.
On 8th December, Channel 4 aired How Safe is your Turkey? In its dispatches series. The 30-minute documentary included under-cover footage from inside Bernard Matthews’ Suffolk-based factory.
As a farmer, I hate it whenever programmes like this are shown – in almost every case the featured farmer (or farmers) is labelled as cruel or at very least uncompassionate and uncaring for the welfare of the animals. It is only ever true about a tiny, tiny minority, but naturally they grab the media’s attention.
This programme, however, was different. Rather than animal welfare, the reporters investigated food hygiene and standards within the factory where the birds are butchered and processed.
I have worked in the turkey industry and I have been around factories of similar size and scale. I was shocked with what the footage showed. Inadequate training, inadequate food hygiene, inadequate equipment and testing. We clearly saw food contamination from the factory equipment, with bits of blue plastic mixed in which food that it on its way to be sold on supermarket shelves. Staff were even seen falsifying records to say that meats were correctly frozen to be safe for consumption.
The most shocking moment came towards the end of the 25-minute programme when a worker gets their fingers caught and crushed in an operating machine. You can see the full episode on YouTube (video above) – it is worth the watch.
Not what Santa ordered
Since its release, the Bernard Matthews company has hit back. A spokesman told The Grocer that Channel 4 ‘set out to create a food scare where none exists’.
The company was founded in 1950 when Bernard Matthews (the man) bought 20 turkey eggs and an incubator from a farm auction. He had a dream of making turkey affordable for the masses at Christmas, and his bussiness year on year.
Mr Matthews died in 2010 and, in 2016, the company was bought by Ranjit Singh Boparan, founder and owner of 2 Sisters Food Group – the second largest poultry producer in the country, after Moy Park.
To be frank, it’s not bootiful – and it’s not good enough.