US factory workers are touching raw chicken with their bare hands as it piles up on the production line, an investigation has found.
Channel 4s Dispatches sent an undercover reporter to work in a poultry processing plant in Texas, operated by the countrys biggest poultry producer, Tyson Foods.
They found the factory relied on chlorinating chicken as a fail-safe to kill bacteria caused by a range of unhygienic processes.
Presenter Kate Quilton, who is fronting the investigation, described the undercover footage of the factory as shocking.
She told Metro.co.uk: The product line was being run so fast workers werent able to pack the meat quick enough.
It means chicken was left stacked up on the sides. Thats where bacteria can grow.
The team working on the meat also had questionable protective equipment.
They wore flimsy little plastic aprons on top of their own clothes and their own shoes. That causes a grave risk of cross-contamination.
On several occasions, the undercover reporter reported supervisors touching chicken with their bare hands.
Kate also described hose water, used for cleaning, being backed up on the floor and going back onto the product.
She continued: The drains were all bunged up and clogged up.
This meant there were pools of stagnant water everywhere, which becomes like a kind of Mecca for bacteria.
There was very, very little cleaning going on. Were talking chicken caught in the cracks of machinery for God knows how long.
In some Tyson Foods factories, workers have been known to wear adult nappies while on the production line – although the undercover reporter found no evidence of this happening at this plant.
But Kate was shocked to hear some employees claim they were unable to take a toilet break, calling it a gross infringement of human rights.
One employee also had to have three fingers amputated after being asked to operate a machine they hadnt been trained to use.
The investigation found two other recent incidents of workers losing fingers.
Washing chicken in chlorine and other disinfectants was banned by the European Union in 1997, but the practice is still widely used in the US.
The fear is that chlorine washing can be used as compensation for poor hygiene standards throughout the product line – and if a post-Brexit trade deal with the US goes ahead, the meat could end up on British supermarket shelves.
Scientists at Southampton University recently reported that washing the chicken in this way only kills 90 per cent of salmonella.
The US has a much higher rate of food poisoning than the UK, with 14.7 per cent of the population suffering from illness every year, compared to just 1.5 per cent of Britain.
Kate said: Chicken in America costs a fifth less than chicken in the UK. The plants work at the fastest pace possible to ensure maximum profit.