London: An Indian-origin businessman, referred to as the UK`s "Chicken King", is at the centre of a major controversy over contamination of poultry.
Ranjit Boparan`s `2 Sisters Group`, the UK`s largest poultry supplier, was singled out in an investigation by the `Guardian` newspaper focusing on the contamination of chicken with campylobacter.
At last count, two-third of fresh chicken was found to be contaminated at varying levels by campylobacter.
Campylobacter is a bacteria frequently found in raw meat, particularly chicken, and can cause food poisoning.
Although the bacteria can be killed by cooking, around 280,000 people fall sick every year in the UK, and it has killed around 100 people so far.
Poultry contamination rates are known to have increased in the past decade, the report said.
The report, which zeroed in on two factories owned by Boparan`s group, has led the UK health ministry to launch its own urgent inspections.
A spokesperson for health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The FSA (Food Standards Agency) has agreed, at the request of the secretary of state for health, to conduct a full safety audit of the facility."
"They will start in the next 24 hours and report back shortly. Undercover footage at a factory showed chicken that had fallen on to the factory floor being picked up and thrown back into the production line," he said.
The 2 Sisters group, however, denied that the chicken was ever put back into production from the floor and said it always disposed of the waste properly.
It also stressed that the contamination was an industry-wide problem and the group is working on the issue.
"Campylobacter is a very, very difficult organism to control and what`s happening in the UK is matched everywhere else in the world," said Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen`s University Belfast.
"The industry will have to tackle this at the processing stage and it will need sizable investment in plant [machinery]," he said.
Poor hygiene in the final stages of meat processing, when workers cut and pack chicken for retail sale or food service, can spread the contamination of the bacteria.