McDonald's Japan halts sales of Chinese chicken after meat scandal

Harumi Ozawa
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A pedestrian walks past a McDonald's restaurant in Tokyo, on July 23, 2014

A pedestrian walks past a McDonald's restaurant in Tokyo, on July 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Tokyo (AFP) - McDonald's said Friday that its restaurants in Japan had stopped selling products made with chicken from China, in a marked widening of a scandal that saw expired meat sold to fast food giants.

More than 3,000 restaurants across Japan had also halted imports of chicken products from the country, the chain said, as it switched to distributors in Thailand "to address the concerns of our customers".

"We made this decision in view of the growing concern over McDonald's chicken products made in China," the Japanese unit's chief executive Sarah Casanova said in a statement.

The move came as McDonald's in Hong Kong said it would no longer sell chicken nuggets and several other items sourced from a US-owned firm in China at the centre the scandal.

"Out of stock" stickers were placed on menus around the southern Chinese city over products such as McDonald's McSpicy Chicken Filet and Chicken McNuggets.

"Prior to concerns being raised this week about food safety at the Shanghai facility, we had already stopped using products from the Shanghai plant, with the last import being in May," the fast food chain's Hong Kong unit said.

"There was no product from Husi Shanghai being sold to our customers," it added, as it suspended all sourcing from the firm's other plants.

In Japan, the change would affect eight dishes, including Chicken McNuggets and Chicken Fillet-O, it said.

Earlier this week, Japan's giant Family Mart convenience store chain and McDonald's restaurants in the country stopped selling chicken nuggets sourced from the scandal-hit plant near Shanghai.

- 'Terribly wrong' -

China has been rocked by a series of food and product safety problems due to lax enforcement of regulations and corner-cutting by producers.

One of the worst incidents occurred in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was found to have been illegally added to dairy products, killing at least six babies and making 300,000 people ill.

On Wednesday, Chinese police detained five people from the unit of US food supplier OSI Group, in a case involving expired meat sold to a host of fast food giants including McDonald's and KFC.

Shanghai authorities on Sunday shuttered the OSI plant for mixing out-of-date meat with fresh product, re-labelling expired goods and other quality problems, following an investigative report by a local television station.

The Shanghai factory's customers in China included McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, coffee chain Starbucks, Burger King, 7-Eleven convenience stores and Papa John's Pizza, according to the companies.

US burger chain Carl's Jr. also used its products, Chinese media said.

Sheldon Lavin, chairman and chief executive officer of OSI, apologised and said what happened at the factory was "completely unacceptable".

"It was terribly wrong and I am appalled that it ever happened in the company that I own," he said, adding authorities have inspected the company's other facilities in China and had not found any issues.

His comments appeared in a statement posted on the company's China website dated Thursday.

This week, the Japanese government said it was banning "any food imports that were processed by the company in question".

Food safety scandals in China are never far from the minds of shoppers in neighbouring Japan, given the countries' vast trading and business links.

In 2008, 10 people in Japan suffered pesticide poisoning after eating dumplings imported from China, and earlier this year a Chinese factory worker was jailed for life for the crime.

In its last fiscal year, McDonald's Japan bought about 38 percent of its chicken products from China, with the rest imported from Thailand, a company spokeswoman told AFP.

"All of our chicken meals are now being made with poultry from Thailand," she said Friday.