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 Quorn’s cocktail sausages line is one of a minority made in a factory that also handles meat

Quorn has claimed it was a victim of sabotage after a chicken nugget was found in a pack of its meat-free sausages.

Matthew Barlow, the Kent-based customer who bought the product, had not eaten meat for 20 years until he unwittingly took a bite of the nugget, the Daily Mail reported on Friday. Barlow told the paper he thought a factory worker was responsible for putting the nugget in the packet “to prank a vegetarian”.

Quorn initiated an investigation after the incident was reported, sending a courier to take the nugget for lab testing, which confirmed the presence of meat. However, a subsequent review of CCTV and the questioning of factory staff was “inconclusive in terms of the source of the chicken nugget”, it said in a statement.

Though more than 90% of Quorn’s products were produced in meat-free factories, its cocktail sausages product was one of a minority made in a factory that also handles meat, it added.

Quorn also stressed it had strict segregation procedures, approved by both The Vegetarian Society and The Vegan Society, which meant accidental cross-contamination would be “impossible”. Its measures include dedicating staff to vegetarian lines, only allowing production of other vegetarian products to run on adjacent lines and deep cleaning before production.

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There were no chicken nuggets being produced in the factory at the time, Quorn said, suggesting the inclusion of a chicken nugget could not be the result of accidental cross-contamination. The only feasible explanations for its presence were deliberate introduction by a factory employee, at the retailer, or after it had been purchased, said a spokesman.

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers is of the utmost importance to us, which is why a full investigation was launched, our production facilities were alerted,” he said.

The failure to spot the nugget will raise further questions over cross-contamination measures on vegetarian and vegan production lines. It follows findings of trace amounts of meat within Tesco’s vegan Wicked Kitchen range last year, while the M&S Plant Kitchen range was advertised as “not suitable for milk or egg allergy sufferers”.