An investigation into undeclared pork found in halal lamb burgers supplied to Leicester schools has concluded that no further action should be taken against the manufacturer Paragon Quality Foods Ltd.
In April 2013, Leicester City Council withdrew halal lamb burgers supplied to 19 schools after test results showed up to 50 per cent pork DNA in a sample.
Follow-up tests on this sample were commissioned by Espo – which provides school dinners to the city council – and also carried out by a public analyst on behalf of Leicester City Council. The results of these tests supported the original findings.
The council took samples of nine additional batches of the halal lamb burgers which had been supplied to schools in the city. The public analyst found undeclared goat DNA in all of them but no undeclared pork DNA.
Two samples of the halal lamb burgers taken from consignments at a Leicester wholesaler were also tested by the public analyst. Both of these samples were found to contain undeclared pork DNA and undeclared goat DNA.
After receiving the results of the council’s testing, Paragon Quality Foods, based in Doncaster, tested samples of frozen raw ingredients still in storage. The company’s own testing also found evidence of undeclared goat DNA – but no pork DNA. It immediately acted to prohibit further use of the product and the slaughterhouse from which it originated.
Leicester City Council has been investigating the findings with the full cooperation of Paragon Quality Foods Ltd over the last 14 months. This has included site visits, paperwork audits and interviews with key personnel under caution.
The council has now concluded its investigation and is satisfied that Paragon Quality Foods Ltd exercised due diligence during the period in question. Therefore, no further action will be taken by the local authority.
Councillor Sarah Russell, assistant city mayor for neighbourhood services, said: “Officers have carried out a very detailed investigation. The company was diligent in its procedures at the time in question and may have been victim of adulteration further up the supply chain.
“It is important to remember that the samples taken were produced around the time of the nationwide horsemeat scandal and expectations have changed significantly since then.
“Paragon was quick to respond to this, introducing new procedures in its selection and traceability of suppliers, and in-house testing of the material supplied to it, early in 2013.
“But it is still clear that more needs to be done nationally to ensure that the food is governed in a way that prioritises and re-establishes consumer confidence.”
Metin Pekin, managing director of Paragon Quality Foods, said: “Paragon Quality Foods is a pork-free site and has always operated the strictest of controls regarding the sourcing and production of its products.
“We are pleased that Leicester City Council has concluded that our company had exercised due diligence.
“We understand the need for the council to act on its test results, particularly in light of what became apparent as the international adulteration of the meat supply chain.
“In response to the emerging scandal at that time, Paragon Quality Foods introduced industry leading systems, including our on-site DNA testing lab.
“Based on the independent analysis that Paragon received, we disputed Leicester City Council’s interpretation of test results which claimed the presence of pork DNA.
“However, we are grateful to the council for its thorough investigation of this sensitive issue.”
A recent programme of meat product testing carried out by Leicester City Council found that over 40 per cent of 105 samples taken from local businesses contained meat from species not declared.
In April 2014, a sample of Halal lamb sheek-kebabs supplied to schools from another manufacturer was found to contain over 50 per cent undeclared beef DNA.
This is being investigated by the local authority where the product was made in North Yorkshire.
Last year, the city council set up a new board to review standards and practices for buying food for schools, elderly people’s homes and other council venues.
Originally published on www.leicestermercury.co.uk