Reports in last week's Wall Street Journal linking the troubled Ahold company US Foodservice with two of the biggest food companies in North America have met with fierce denials from the companies concerned.
Both Sara Lee and ConAgra Foods were alleged to have acted inappropriately in their relationship with US Foodservice, which is currently under investigation by the authorities after revelations of serious accounting lapses.
C. Steven McMillan, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Sara Lee, said: "Last month, when Ahold announced that it had found accounting irregularities in its US Foodservice business, we immediately reviewed all of our records associated with each of our foodservice distributors and confirmed that our conduct and accounting was appropriate and accurate.
"Moreover, we have not been contacted by any investigators - either from the US Attorney's office, the Securities and Exchange Commission or Ahold's outside auditor, Deloitte & Touche - regarding our relationship with US Foodservice."
He added: "We are prepared to co-operate fully should any of these investigative bodies contact us. To the best of our knowledge, we have always conducted our business with US Foodservice and all of our customers with the highest ethical standards."
Sara Lee is one of the world's leading branded consumer packaged goods companies, selling its products in nearly 200 countries. Its food brands include Sara Lee, Earth Grains and Douwe Egberts.
For its part, ConAgra Foods said that like all suppliers, in the ordinary course of business, it had received requests from Ahold's auditors to confirm amounts payable by ConAgra Foods to the foodservice business.
"ConAgra Foods systematically refused to verify confirmation requests that were inaccurate," the company said in a brief statement. "Recent news accounts to the contrary with respect to ConAgra Foods' relationship with Ahold are misleading. ConAgra Foods' sales to Royal Ahold reflect ordinary and appropriate business practices in the foodservice industry, and ConAgra Foods is not aware of any financial impact to ConAgra Foods because of the Royal Ahold investigation."