There was a fresh scare to the beleaguered food industry yesterday, after McDonald’s halted sales of Chicken McNuggets all across Japan, on the identification of a fragment of vinyl in a nugget at one of their chains in the administrative district of Aomori, in the city of Misawa. The company determined that the offending food item came from a facility that produced them for their Japanese outlets located in Thailand, so it limited the stoppage of sales to those sourced from there. McDonald’s are examining the chicken nugget that has caused the furore at their Tokyo headquarters

McDonald’s Japanese-style has been using nugget production facilities in Thailand after an earlier scandal when their previous supplier, the Shanghai Husi Food Company, was linked with potentially including meat past its expiry date in the food supplied to them.

The disruption follows on from another issue the company faced over the sale of French fries at their Japanese outlets, which are primarily sourced from America (amounting to some $336 million per year) , which led to a brief stoppage in sales of medium and large fries to avoid running out of fries completely. That was the result of a protracted labour (union) dispute at ports on the American West Coast, involving dockworkers and the Pacific Maritime Association, with the impact of doubling the time taken to transport loads to Japan. That issue has since been overcome and sales have resumed of those products, but at the time the fate of medium and large-sizes of the fries was a major concern to the Japanese market!

Japan is not alone in experiencing scares in the food industry, especially in the sourcing of its meat products. Back in 2012/13, food fraud was effectively found to be happening in Europe, as tens of millions of burgers and other beef-related products were withdrawn from stores, as a horsemeat scandal within the British and Irish food chain was found to have occurred. Further claims of out of date meat supplies being used in food production were also alleged. At the time it was claimed that some of the factories used in the supply of what were advertised as beefburgers by Tesco, in fact included as much as 29% horse in their constitution. Besides Tesco, burgers sold by Burger King, the Co-op and Aldi also tested positive for horse DNA with the offending supplier identified as being based in Ireland.

Before that there was the major food scare when worries abounded about infected products entering the food chain, as a result of what became commonly referred to as ‘mad cow disease’ (or BSE) in Great Britain in the early 1990s. Clearly the Japanese issue needs to be put in context, but it is nonetheless concerning as to how such issues come about, so the results from the McDonald’s investigation may prove enlightening in that respect. It does indicate how difficult it is to be one hundred per cent free of contamination in food preparation though and one would expect that the least that would emerge from the findings into the McDonald’s incident, would be that quality testing and checking procedures would need to be tightened in future.

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