Public institutions that provide meals, such as schools, hospitals and prisons, are being urged by authorities to be vigilant as the scandal around horse contamination of processed beef products unfolds.
Britain’s Food Standards Agency said an industry-wide testing programme was now in place, but institutions needed to shoulder some responsibility in the matter.
“We are reminding public bodies – schools, prisons, hospitals, armed forces – of their responsibility for their own food contracts,” the agency said.
“We expect them to have rigorous procurement procedures in place, with reputable suppliers.
“We are keeping the appropriate Government departments in close touch with developments, making sure that they are aware of the above and that if any public authorities have any concerns they should seek assurances on authenticity from their suppliers.”
It said it remained the case that the issues identified so far suggested gross negligence and possibility criminality, but no food safety risks.
“If public institutions are not satisfied with assurance from suppliers, then they should take appropriate action depending on the circumstances.
“Where evidence of authenticity is not produced, that action may include requiring the supplier to conduct tests, and reject or temporarily withhold stock, while waiting for results.”
The agency said it expected caterers and suppliers to public institutions to have appropriate controls, including testing and sampling regimes, in place to ensure the authenticity of their products.
“If caterers have any doubts about the provenance of their product, they should seek assurance from their suppliers. Any recalled products should not be used or sold.
“Caterers are being included in the surveillance programme agreed between ministers and industry on February 9.”
It said caterers were responsible for ensuring the food they sold to consumers was safe, and consumers were entitled to ask about the source of the food in order to make judgments based on that information.
“The evidence to date does not suggest there is a food safety risk. If further information indicates any health risk then the Food Standards Agency will provide consumers with advice.”