Employees package food at the Husi Food factory in Shanghai on Sunday before the Food and Drug Administration sealed the facility after reports that it had sold expired beef and chicken. Photo: Reuters

Joe McDonald Beijing

Five employees of a company accused of selling expired beef and chicken to McDonald’s, KFC and other restaurants were detained by Chinese police yesterday after an official said illegal activity was an organised effort by the supplier.

China’s food safety agency said on its website that its investigators had uncovered unspecified illegal activity by Husi Food but gave no confirmation that expired meat had been found or other details.

Some of the illegal conduct was an “arrangement organised by the company”, the deputy director of the agency’s Shanghai bureau, Gu Zhenghua, told the official Xinhua News Agency.

Those in criminal detention included Husi’s quality manager, the Shanghai police said.

The scandal surrounding Husi, which is owned by US-based OSI Group, has alarmed Chinese diners and disrupted operations for fast food chains.

It erupted on Sunday when a Shanghai broadcaster, Dragon TV, reported that Husi had repackaged old beef and chicken and inserted new expiration dates. It said the meat had been sold to McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants.

Xinhua said the manager of Husi’s quality control department, Zhang Hui, had told investigators “such meat was produced under tacit approval of the company’s senior managers”. He reportedly said the company “has been conducting the malpractice for years”.

An employee who answered the phone at the food agency office in Shanghai declined to give any additional details.

Foreign restaurant operators that have withdrawn products made with meat from Husi include McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum Brands, pizza chain Papa John’s International, Starbucks, Burger King and Dicos, a Taiwanese-owned sandwich shop chain. The scare has spread to Japan where McDonald’s said 20 percent of the meat for its chicken nuggets was supplied by Husi.

Husi said in a statement earlier this week that it was “appalled by the report” and believed it to be an “isolated event”. It promised to co-operate with the investigation.

The State Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that investigators had seized 160 tons of raw material and 1 100 tons of finished products from Husi. The agency said earlier that it would investigate Husi facilities in Shanghai and five other provinces.

The Shanghai branch of the agency sealed the company’s food processing facility in the city on Monday.

Product safety is unusually sensitive in China following scandals over the past decade in which infants, hospital patients and others have been killed or sickened by phony or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods.

Sales at KFC, China’s biggest restaurant chain, were hit hard by a report in December last year that some poultry suppliers had violated rules on drug use in chickens. – Sapa-AFP