BEIJING – The chairman of an American meat supplier apologized Thursday for a Chinese subsidiary that is accused of selling expired beef and chicken to restaurants including McDonald's and KFC.
Fast food chains in China suspended use of products from Shanghai Husi Food Co. after a television station reported last weekend it repackaged and sold meat past its use-by date. Authorities launched an investigation and five Husi employees were detained Wednesday after China's food safety agency said illegal activity was organized by the company.
"What happened at Husi Shanghai is completely unacceptable. I will not try to and defend it or explain it," said Sheldon Lavin, chairman and chief executive of Aurora, Illinois-based OSI Group, which owns Husi Food.
"I sincerely apologize to all of our customers in China," Lavin said in a statement. "We will bear the responsibility of these missteps, and will make sure they never happen again."
Lavin said the company was sending "global experts" to work with staff in China.
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.
Dragon TV in Shanghai reported Husi repackaged old beef and chicken and put new expiration dates on them. It said they were sold to McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants.
Employees including Husi Foods' quality manager were detained Wednesday by Shanghai police.
Government investigators have yet to confirm whether they have found expired meat. Authorities seized 160 tons of raw material and 1,100 tons of finished products from Husi.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the manager of Husi's quality department, Zhang Hui, told investigators "such meat had been produced under tacit approval of the company's senior managers." It said the company "has been conducting the malpractice for years."
In addition to KFC and Pizza Hut, which are owned by Yum Brands Inc., and McDonald's Corp., companies that have withdrawn products that used meat from Husi were pizza chain Papa John's International Inc., Starbucks Corp., Burger King Corp. and Dicos, a Taiwanese-owned sandwich shop chain.
Yum, based in Louisville, Kentucky, said Wednesday it was immediately ending "all procurement from OSI China." It said that OSI is not a major supplier for its restaurants in China and that it has arranged for alternative suppliers.
Yum also said it reserves the right to "take any and all legal action against OSI Group" based on the results of the investigation.
The scare also spread to Japan, where McDonald's said 20 percent of the meat for its chicken nuggets was supplied by Husi.
Associated Press researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed.