Supreme Poultry chicken sell-by dates 'misleading'

The reprocessed chicken scandal has spread to include popular fast-food outlets KFC and Nando’s.

Consumers all over South Africa have expressed their dismay at reports that Supreme Poultry, the country’s third-biggest chicken supplier, has a standard practice of reprocessing unsold frozen chickens and putting them back on sale with new expiry dates.

Supreme Poultry (which sports the slogan “the people’s choice”) supplies Pick n Pay, Shoprite/Checkers and other outlets with frozen chickens. According to an African Business Review report earlier this year, Supreme Poultry now also supplies chicken to KFC and Nando's.

Three former Supreme Poultry employees told the Sunday newspaper Rapport that they had been instructed by management to repackage old chicken - a practice that apparently has been going on for years.

According to Johan Matthee, a former production manager at the Botshabelo plant, “hundreds of tons” of unsold chickens were transported back to Supreme Poultry and reprocessed.

Potential contamination

“After the sell-by date there is no guarantee that the meat will not have spoiled,” says Health24’s DietDoc, Dr Ingrid van Heerden. “Any frozen food, including meat, fish and chicken, should never be refrozen because this gives harmful microorganisms a chance to multiply and can cause food poisoning.”

 “The public is misled with a sell-by date if it is already the second or third date issued to the specific product. This begs to ask on which guidelines these sell-by dates are based?” adds Charlene Goosen, senior dietician of NICUS (The Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch

Goosen explains that a clear system should be followed when handling raw food, especially potentially hazardous foods like chicken, other meats, eggs and dairy. “Safe food handling practices are crucial to prevent food-borne illness caused by microbial, chemical or physical hazards,” says Goosen. “Contamination by microbial hazards can be harmful to humans, and viruses and bacteria pose the greatest safety challenges to food establishments.”

Most at risk for food-borne illnesses include infants, the elderly, pregnant women, malnourished individuals, and people with any condition that compromises their immune system.

Amongst minimum safety measures for frozen poultry are strict temperature-control measures, and definite time-lines. Chicken can be frozen for up to 3-6 months at  minus 18 degrees Celsius, after which flavour and nutritional value deteriorates. Refreezing of thawed food should be avoided since the food loose flavour and nutritional flavour and may spoil.

The risk for food-borne illnesses is increased if thawed chicken is kept at a temperature higher than four degrees Celsius before it is refrozen. The quality of partially thawed chicken is also reduced when it is refrozen. Transporting chicken from a manufacturer to a retailer, back to the manufacturer and again to the retailer increases the number of opportunities of temperature failure if it is not closely monitored by all parties involved.

Consumer Protection Act

According to Goosen the ideal process is contained in the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for control of food safety. “This type of practice will hopefully be discouraged once the Consumers Protection Act is enforced, giving the consumer the ability to successfully appeal against poor quality food products.”

In the meantime, retailer Pick n Pay published a statement on their website to explain their position on reprocessed chicken. The company claims it conducts regular quality control tests and audits the Supreme Poultry premises on a regular basis.

“Pick n Pay has a strict food safety and quality-verification program in place … Supreme Poultry's return's policy stipulates that all returned/rejected poultry is sent to the rendering plant. This meat is processed/re-worked into bone-meal at this plant. We have specifications in place which clearly stipulates our requirements around quality like shelf- life, organoleptic quality, microbiological standards as well as the maximum brine injection allowed.”

Shoprite/Checkers also announced that they had strict control measures in place to ensure food safety; and that they would be investigating Supreme Poultry’s chicken.

Retailer Woolworths has assured consumers that they do not source any chicken from Supreme Poultry and would never reprocess chicken.

“Woolworths insists on exceptionally high quality and safety standards and would never subscribe to the practices described in the (Rapport) article," Zelda Rylands, MD of Woolworths Food told Health24 late on Monday afternoon. "Furthermore, Woolworths does not source from the supplier in question."

- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, 20 December 2010) 

Read more:

Frozen chicken horror
Poison in your food
Maintaining the cold food chain

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