China has been rocked by food scandals in the past, leading many citizens to question the safety of domestically produced food. The ongoing fast food imbroglio involving several Western franchises has now spread that concern outward to include foreign-owned companies with enormous worldwide brand recognition.
Shanghai-based Dragon Television first broke the story of possible food contamination by a McDonald's meat and poultry supplier on July 20. In the days following the television report more accusations surfaced, followed by vehement denials and police seizures as the story threatened to taint all major fast food chains operating in China.
The Dragon Television story originally claimed meat processing company Shanghai Husi Food intentionally relabeled expired and possibly rancid meat, using it in products then sold to McDonald's. The story has grown significantly in scope and now includes Yum! Brands, who also sourced products from Husi Food.
Yum!, parent company of the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut franchises, is the largest fast food company in China by market share. Also implicated by their previous or current association with Husi Food are Starbucks, IKEA, Papa John's, Burger King and Taiwan-based Dicos.
Chinese Food and Drug officials closed down Husi Food's Shanghai meat-packing plant on July 20, cordoning off the facility and detaining five employees — including the company president — pending an investigation. All of the companies that once bought meat or poultry from Husi Foods have pulled products associated with the supplier from their inventories. With the notable exception of McDonald's, those firms have also cut ties completely with the Shanghai company, which is owned by US food conglomerate OSI Group.
Investigations are now underway at OSI meat-processing plants in Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Guangdong and Yunnan. Although several tons of meat have so far been confiscated from shipping facilities in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Yunnan and Zhejiang, no announcements have surfaced regarding poor quality, contamination or connected cases of food poisoning.
In Yunnan, 800 kilograms of "allegedly tainted meat" destined for McDonald's and Yum! franchises was impounded on July 23 by provincial food safety authorities. However, on-site inspections revealed no trace of any "suspected problems" according to a Spring City Evening News report.
As the scandal broadens, foreign-owned food companies are scrambling to save face. Many have taken to social media to issue apologies and reassure their customers. Chairman of OSI, Sheldon Lavin, issued an apology July 24, which read, in part, "What happened at Husi Shanghai is completely unacceptable. I will not try to and defend it or explain it. I sincerely apologize to all of our customers in China."
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