The Bureau of Investigative Journalism cited a meat inspector who said hygiene lapses and poor regulation could lead to contaminated meat getting into the food chain.
The whistleblower worked as a meat inspector contracted on behalf of the FSA for much of his career.
The non-profit organisation said the whistleblower’s motivations for speaking out include an industry lobbying for lighter-touch regulation, breaches in standards as well as individual cases of harassment and personal experience.
FSA: We are in more than 300 slaughterhouses
FSA said staff don’t allow contaminated meat to enter the food chain.
“We work in more than 300 slaughterhouses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure the safety and authenticity of the food that people buy and eat.
“Meat Hygiene Inspectors and Official Veterinarians inspect every red meat and poultry carcass for visible contamination, with 99.5% of them passing the test.
“The rest are rejected and returned to the food business, so that it can rectify the problem.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism also found hygiene failings in more than a quarter of meat plants covered in an analysis of government audits at more than 300 abattoirs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland earlier this year.
Breaches included carcasses in contact with the factory floor, cutting equipment not sterilised or washed adequately and meat splashed with dirty water potentially containing faecal matter.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said whenever animals are being slaughtered or meat is being processed in an abattoir there is an official vet from the FSA present to ensure hygiene systems are being followed and food is safe to eat.
“If a problem is identified by the vet, then the plant is notified and required to rectify it. As well as the regular meat plant audits by the FSA, unannounced spot checks by the FSA, assurance schemes and retailers are also carried out on a regular basis to make sure standards are maintained.
“In recent years there has been constant monitoring of problems identified at audit and these reports are in the public domain to aid transparency and give consumer confidence in the system.
“Our members recognise their responsibilities to produce safe food, and, as an additional safeguard, no official vet in a plant would permit any meat that was considered unsafe to go into the food chain.”
Audit frequency varies from at least once every two months, to three, 12 or 18 months (slaughterhouses only) depending on potential risk to public health and animal health and welfare.
Audits and follow-up audits are on an announced basis with unannounced inspections in between scheduled inspections in cutting plants.
FSA employs veterinary auditors and four Audit Veterinary Leaders to do audits and inspections of slaughterhouses, game handling sites and cutting plants requiring approval.
The agency said it is not the case that breaches in an audit report mean meat leaving that premises is unsafe for consumers.
“The fact that breaches of the rules are identified and swiftly corrected demonstrates that the process is working – it ensures that we are aware of problems and that anything that poses an immediate food safety risk prompts instant action by FSA officials to prevent that meat entering the food chain.”
Concerns of system review
The FSA is reviewing the enforcement system and has completed a trial with retailer Tesco and pub restaurant chain Mitchells & Butlers.
The focus was on if private sector audit data could provide assurance businesses are complying with food law.
However, A UNISON survey earlier this year found nearly four out of five people believe meat inspections should remain the responsibility of government and the FSA.
The union said the agency is planning to scale down its inspectors and make greater use of private contractors and abattoirs might be able to do their own inspections.
Which? has previously expressed concerns that proposed food safety reforms could see more inspections by third parties employed by businesses.
The consumer group added a strategy for enforcement post-Brexit is needed as the UK is likely to take on more responsibility and needs stronger import and export checks.