Supreme Poultry violated the meat safety laws by reworking returned frozen chicken, an agriculture department probe has found.
The department said it found contraventions of the poultry regulations in terms of the Meat Safety Act during an inspection of Supreme Poultry's Botshabelo abattoir in the Free State.
"These include inadequate process descriptions as well as keeping and reworking of returned frozen meat," departmental spokeswoman Noncedo Vutula said in a statement released.
The department also found that the brine injection used by the company contravened regulations.
"The department realised over time that this technique is now being abused by injecting excessive quantities of brine, which are now ranging from 30% to 60% in individual quick frozen (IQF) portions."
Threat to consumer safety
The department had since contracted the Agricultural Research Council to conduct a research study on brine injection of chicken meat.
The inspection came after the Rapport and City Press newspapers reported that 14-month-old chicken wings had been sent to the company's reprocessing plant in Botshabelo, outside Bloemfontein.
According to a food safety management document, the 70 cases of chicken wings were described as "rotten products from cold storage".
However, Supreme Poultry CEO Kevin Lovell said the company was compliant with health department regulations on brining injections and that these did not fall under the jurisdiction of the department of agriculture.
Clean bill of health
He said the department of health visited the Botshabelo plant and gave the abattoir a clean bill of health.
"In respect of brining, Supreme follows legally recognised industry norms and standards and we state categorically that our operations in no way contravene regulations governing the brine injection process."
He said the agriculture department's claim that brine injection had a negative impact on value for money for the consumer was "spurious" and that the exact opposite was true.
"The dilution of the product which occurs during brining is reflected in the price, just as the price of orange squash and the price of 100% orange juice differ according to their dilution."
Regarding its contravention of the Meat Safety Act, Supreme said it was regulated by the agriculture department in the Free State, not the national department.
The provincial department found the abattoir in compliance with Meat Safety Act and relevant regulations.
(Sapa, February 2011)