China Food Safety

Five Husi bosses quizzed by police over 'rotten meat' scandal, as 1,250 tonnes of food seized

Authorities widen investigation to include some of the largest foreign-owned restaurant chains and convenience store franchises

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 4:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 3:59pm

Shanghai police were today questioning five executives of the meat processing company at the centre of a scandal involving out-of-date meat used in fast food products.

Preliminary investigations concluded that the food company is suspected of illegal production and operation, according to a joint investigation team by China's food safety watchdog and police.

Investigators have seized a total of 160 tonnes of raw meat as well as 1,107 tonnes of Husi Food products, and the case is under further investigation, Shanghai municipal government said on its website.

Investigators also found a client list of Hsui, which involves nearly 150 companies. Police did not reveal the full list but said it was handed over to the food safety watchdog.

“We uncovered some illegal acts from the company, which are not conducted by individuals but planned and organised by the company,” Gu Zhenhua, the deputy director of Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration, told Xinhua.

Police have been interviewing executives from 22 companies that bought meat from Husi, Xu Wei, a spokesman for the Shanghai municipal government, said yesterday.

About 100 tonnes of Husi products found at nine of the 22 companies - which include McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Dicos and 7-Eleven - had been sealed as evidence.

Police allege that Husi violated food safety laws and found 5,108 boxes of suspected contaminated goods at the factory, including McNuggets, mini-steaks and pork pies, the municipal government announced on Weibo.

Xu did not release the names of all the companies involved, but international fast-food chains and convenience stores operating on the mainland were quick to distance themselves from Husi, either by denying they sourced products from the company or withdrawing Husi-made products from their shelves.

Japanese noodle chain Yoshinoya issued a statement saying that Husi was not its supplier. Convenience store operator 7-Eleven said it had no "direct cooperation" with Husi, but took two products off its shelves after checking with its supplier and finding the products may have contained ingredients sourced from Husi.

Watch: China 'rotten meat' factory quality manager: It was a company policy

An investigative news programme on Shanghai's Dragon TV on Sunday claimed that Husi, owned by privately held OSI Group of Illinois, in the US, had falsified expiry dates on some of its meat products.

The meat, reportedly already green and odorous, was reprocessed, refrozen and repackaged with new expiry dates. The report showed workers picking up meat from the floor before throwing it into processing machines.

Husi's production plant in Jiading district was shut down and municipal food inspectors were investigating the premises.

A Husi employee told the South China Morning Post that the company was investigating who took the video and how it was released to the media.

Li Weihua, deputy director of the Franchise Research Centre at the China University of Political Science and Law, doubted the scandal's impact would last long.

"These big foreign brands will start public relations campaigns to restore their image in the China market," Li said.

"At the same time, Chinese consumers tend to be forgetful. There are still long queues at some McDonald's and KFC restaurants in the days following the programme."

Jiang Yuan, a customer at a KFC outlet in Zhabei district, said he was not concerned.

"These food scares, no matter how shocking, no longer raise my eyebrows as I have become numb," he said. "I don't have confidence in Chinese food inspectors, and I'm sure many restaurants have been doing lousy things that go undiscovered."