FSA investigating claims traces of meat found in vegetarian ready meals

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Related tags: Food standards agency, vegan, Pork, Turkey, vegetarian, Ready meal

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has opened a probe into allegations that traces of meat were discovered in vegetarian and vegan ready meals.

An investigation by UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph​ found traces of pork in Sainsbury’s own brand Meat Free Meatballs and turkey in Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen BBQ Butternut Mac.

Both supermarkets said they were investigating but did not name their supplier.

The Daily Telegraph sent samples to a German government accredited food testing lab.

Presence of turkey and pig DNA does not mean there were solid pieces of meat present - shown by the findings of trace levels and lack of exact quantification.

FSA and supermarket responses

The FSA said: “Our priority is to ensure consumers can be confident that the food they eat is safe and is what it says it is.

“We are investigating the circumstances surrounding these alleged incidents and any resulting action will depend upon the evidence found.”

Sainsbury’s said it was surprised by the claims as the product comes from a meat-free factory.

“Sainsbury’s and the Vegetarian Society also carry out regular checks and no issues have been found. No products that contain meat as an ingredient are produced at this site. We have carried out our own tests have shown no evidence of any pork DNA in the samples.”

Tesco said preliminary testing found no sign of animal products in the items.

“We have asked The Telegraph to share full details of their testing, including the lab used as we continue to investigate. Our initial DNA tests have found no traces of animal DNA in the BBQ butternut squash product available in stores today.”

Food Standards Scotland said it supports regular sampling alongside local authority Environmental Health officials of foods potentially of high risk and there has been no research to date which indicates The Telegraph’s findings are a wide-spread problem.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said it had contacted the FSA and companies involved for more information. The agency added it had not done such testing in the past but the findings had opened up a line of inquiry for the future.

Vegetarian Society trademark

Sainsbury’s meat-free meatballs carry the Vegetarian Society Approved trademark.

Lynne Elliot, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society, said the trademark scheme helps customers identify vegetarian and vegan products more easily.

“We check ingredients and suggest alternatives where necessary, check production processes including possible cross-contamination points, offer advice on best practise, and assess risk. We conduct site visits where needed but, for example, where a facility manufactures exclusively vegetarian products, this would usually be considered unnecessary," ​she said.

"It is the producers' responsibility to ensure production processes are followed and to reduce as far as possible the chance of human error. In the unlikely event of a mistake happening, we are always happy to work with a producer to help minimise the chance of future occurrences.”

Past research has identified food contaminated with animal by-products is unacceptable to vegetarians and many ethnic groups.

Ready meals have a variety of ingredients and processing increases variability.

Inadvertent contamination is the most likely source of adulteration, originating from shared production lines rather than deliberate addition of a high cost ingredient such as meat, when compared to the cost of vegetables and food ingredients from plants.

The Vegan Society said cross-contamination is always a possibility even for the meal made in a meat-free factory as the supply chain can introduce a contaminated product. 

Neither product is registered with The Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark confirming an item is suitable for vegans following checks of ingredients, non-declarables and production processes.

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