Tesco extra

Tesco has ordered three suppliers to clamp down on standards after cross-contamination cases were discovered in tests

Tesco has asked three of its meat suppliers – Tulip, 2 Sisters Food Group and Feldhues – to make changes to their production processes and controls after DNA tests uncovered undeclared proteins in five own-label meat products.

Tests conducted as part of Tesco’s quarterly DNA testing programme revealed small quantities of undeclared chicken and turkey in three Tesco Butcher’s Choice sausages produced by Tulip; undeclared lamb in venison burgers produced by 2 Sisters; and undeclared chicken in Billy Bear cold sliced meat produced by Feldhues.

Tesco said in all cases immediate investigations were launched with the suppliers in question, and it has concluded the issues were the result of production errors rather than deliberate wrongdoing.

There were no hygiene or public health issues, it stressed, but said it had asked for improvements to be made. “We have insisted that our suppliers put in place improved process controls to prevent these problems reoccurring, and have made clear any future incidents of this type will have consequences.”

A spokeswoman added the cases had been uncovered thanks to Tesco’s “world-class traceability and DNA testing system. Investigations into each incident have concluded that production line error was responsible and we have worked with suppliers to ensure their controls are effective and our stringent standards are met every time.”

The products affected

Details of the cases were revealed in an update on DNA testing by Tesco group technical director Tim Smith on 16 September.

Smith’s report said a batch of three Butcher’s Choice sausages – in beef; pork & onion; and turkey flavours – produced at Tulip’s Bromborough site had been found to contain between 1 and 5% of undeclared chicken or turkey. This was due to “different sausage varieties being produced on the same equipment on the same day,” the report added. “Regular inspections found that our suppliers Tulip were not properly adhering to the Tesco approved manufacturing methods.”

Meanwhile, venison burgers produced at 2 Sisters’ St Merryn Foods site in Victoria, Cornwall had been found to contain between 5 and 30% lamb. “That prompted a detailed investigation of the production site, which pointed to human error and further improvements 2 Sisters will make to the production process”, Tim Smith’s report said.

And in the case of Billy Bear cold sliced meat produced by Feldhues, between 1 and 5% of chicken was found. “The producer will work with their suppliers to ensure that there is clear segregation between products,” the report said.

Tesco said the safety and quality of its food was of utmost importance, and any breach of its manufacturing standards was unacceptable. “We have worked with our suppliers to ensure that improvements are made.” It also stressed these cases were only uncovered thanks to its rigorous meat testing procedures, introduced in the wake of the horsemeat scandal in 2013.

Since Horsegate, Tesco has tested more than 6,000 products, with results published on a quarterly basis. In the most recent quarter – during which the five cases were uncovered – a total of more than 450 tests were conducted.

Suppliers respond

Tulip said it was “very disappointed” to have fallen below its own high-quality standards in relation to the Butcher’s Choice sausages. “However, the business is now confident that the issues identified have been fully addressed.

“As soon as the results of the testing were confirmed, Tulip launched a thorough review of all aspects of its manufacturing processes at the Bromborough site. A more stringent hygiene regime and sign off process has now been introduced, supported by the instigation of comprehensive programme of employee re-training. Representatives from Tesco have since visited Tulip’s Bromborough facility and are satisfied with the corrective actions that have been taken. Tulip continues to manufacture the Butcher’s Choice range.”

2 Sisters said it had conducted a root-and-branch review of its supply chain after being informed that one of the venison burgers it had produced contained traces of lamb. “After a forensic investigation of our process and a thorough review of the entire supply chain, including raw material originating from New Zealand, we have been unable to definitively confirm how this occurred. We have concluded that this incident is a case of human error that may have occurred at any point in the supply chain and not a deliberate or malicious act.

“However, this is still wholly unacceptable and we have since enhanced a number of our working practices and controls to reassure our customers and their consumers that our processes are as thorough and robust as they can be. Further testing of venison raw materials has found no other instances of lamb present, and we have informed the relevant statutory authorities.”

Feldhues said it only processed turkey and pork, and was a long-standing business with a strong reputation. “Feldhues has identified a supplier of turkey as the source of the small proportion of chicken meat in the product sampled by Tesco. That supplier also processes chicken. In our own tests by Feldhues, we have identified that this has been an isolated occurrence. However, Feldhues takes most seriously any deviation within the ingredients and contents of its produce and is reviewing this matter with the supplier concerned to ensure compliance with our very high standards of operation. This occurrence does not constitute a food health or safety matter.”