120 sites face inspection as hunt for horse meat grows
More than 100 premises across Northern Ireland are set to be inspected as the horse meat scandal continues to spread.
The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that 90 premises involved in preparing and processing meat will be inspected, along with up to 30 cold stores here.
Whitbread – one of the UK's largest hotel chains – was the latest company embroiled in the mushrooming scandal yesterday.
The firm, which owns the Premier Inn chain, confirmed the discovery of equine meat in its beef lasagne and burgers, triggering the withdrawal of the products from menus at eight Premier Inns in Northern Ireland.
Compass Group, one of the UK's biggest school food providers, says it found between 5% and 30% horse DNA in burgers it sold in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The company has declined to confirm which outlets it supplies in the province.
Compass owns Eurest, a catering company which is contracted to provide food to the Stormont Assembly.
However, a spokeswoman for the Assembly said that "meat products at the Assembly are sourced locally and farm quality-assured by DARD" as part of its contract with Eurest.
The Food Standards Agency said 29 samples – or 1% – of more than 2,500 beef products tested across the UK contained horse meat, in the latest wave of results released yesterday afternoon.
The 29 positive results were on seven previously withdrawn products, which were sold by Aldi, Findus, Co-operative, Rangeland and Tesco.
The Food Standards Agency could not confirm how many of these products were available in Northern Ireland when asked yesterday.
At least 950 tests are still under way UK-wide, including 20 tests on meat products other than beef.
Gerry McCurdy, director of the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland, said that more inspections are set to roll out across the province.
He said: "Approximately 90 meat preparation and meat production premises will have inspections of these premises, and (at) approximately 20 to 30 cold stores.
"Two district councils are also taking samples for testing." Robert Cameron, a lecturer in environmental health at the University of Ulster, said the horse meat scandal will not be stemmed until authorities can confirm the source of all contaminated meat.
"We need to trace it back and find out where it's (the contaminated meat consignments) from and why it is going into the food chain," he said.
This is still part of the FSA's investigation.
Mr McCurdy added: "Twenty-nine products (found to contain horse meat in the UK) have been taken off the market. We are investigating the sources."
It emerged this week that hospitals and schools serving thousands of children and patients have been pulled into the scandal.
The Business Services Organisation, the leading food provider for Northern Ireland's health trusts, has withdrawn a range of burgers from hospitals after they were found to contain horse meat.
They were supplied by Rangeland, a company based in the Republic.
A spokeswoman for Rangeland said it had "discovered equine DNA in a consignment of meat from Poland". She added: "This meat did not go into production (or) enter the food chain."
A spokesman for the Business Services Organisation added: "We have acted immediately to remove one range of beef burger from health and social care facilities."
Burgers also remain off the menu at schools across Northern Ireland after all the education and library boards here pulled the products as a precaution.
Nearly 170,000 children in nursery, primary and post-primary school eat school dinners every day – 55% of all pupils.
Newtownabbey-based Henderson Food Services, which distributes the burgers to the education and library boards, said independent tests had found no equine DNA in products.
The Northern Ireland Prison Service yesterday said all the meat it uses "are governed by strict guidelines", adding: "There is currently no indication that any of the current suppliers, or their products, have been implicated."