An announcement at Waitrose has raised fears that the horse meat scandal may go far further than we ever expected. It has recalled frozen beef meatballs from its essentials range, after discovering that some may be contaminated with pork.
So what happened, and why is this such a worry?
RecallThe supermarket issued the recall yesterday, on packs of 16 frozen beef meatballs from the essentials range. The affected date codes are Best Before End June 2013 and Best Before End August 2013.
In a statement, Waitrose said: "Tests have been done on this product and despite contradictory results, we have taken the precautionary action of removing the frozen meatballs from sale and putting up customer information notices in all our branches."
"We did, however, discover that in two batches of our essential Waitrose frozen British beef meatballs (480g), some of the meatballs may contain some pork. Although the meatballs are safe to eat, pork is not listed as an ingredient and should not be part of the recipe."
"Like me, I'm sure nothing is more important to you than the safety, quality and taste of the food you give your family and that is why I wanted to write to you directly in this way."
How?The products are made for Waitrose by the chain by ABP Freshlink, in Glasgow. It is also the largest private label frozen sausage supplier in the UK. There is no information as to how the pork made its way into the meatballs, but there is always the possibility that factories producing more than one type of product occasionally have contamination issues - it's why they will tell you if products are made in a factory that also produces products containing peanuts.
Why worry?This broadening of the risks is worrying because while horse meat consumption is a moral and cultural decision, the consumption of pork is often a religious choice. Clearly the implications of cross-contamination are even more serious when it threatens someone's closely-held religious beliefs.
It is also alarming because it gives us a glimpse into what is found when an entire industry takes a snapshot at a given moment in time. The supermarkets were asked to test all beef products - which is why this contamination emerged.
The question is whether this is it, or whether the ongoing testing of beef products opens a can of worms in the meat industry.
Waitrose has tried to stay ahead of this story. It has conformed it will establish its own facility, which will supply it with all its beef and will manufacture a range of beef products. Its argument is that if there are problems with the supply chain, it's going to take control of the entire supply chain so it can guarantee that mistakes will not be made.
But will this be enough to convince us that we will always know exactly what we are eating?