No action against halal firm
by Fiona Dryden
No action will be taken against a company accused of supplying halal burgers containing pork to schools.
Leicester City Council withdrew a lamb burger supplied to 19 schools by Doncaster firm Paragon Quality Foods last month after tests showed up to 50 per cent pork in a sample.
However, further tests on the company's products conducted at the request of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have found no trace of pork.
A spokeswoman for the FSA said: "We were notified of the findings by Leicester City Council and instructed colleagues at Doncaster Metropolitan Council to liaise with Paragon.
"We have received the report from Doncaster and are satisfied there are appropriate controls in place and no further action needs to be taken."
Peter Dale, director of regeneration and environment for Doncaster, said: "We have carried out an extensive programme of sampling and so far no traces of meat other than labelled have been detected."
Eastern Shires Purchasing Organisation (ESPO), in Leicester, which tested the original burger on behalf of the city council, declined to comment yesterday.
Paragon is considering legal action against Leicester City Council, saying its reputation has been "unfairly damaged".
A spokesman for the company said: "The test by ESPO wasn't a formal test under controlled conditions and all other results have come back negative for any traces of pork.
"Therefore we're seeking advice about possible legal action."
The city council was understood to be carrying out further tests on the burgers, the results of which are not yet known.
The halal burger had been available on its school menus since January.
A spokeswoman for the council said it was carrying out its own investigation and could not comment any further as this might prejudice any future legal proceedings.
Pat Heslop-Harrison, a professor of molecular cytogenetics at the University of Leicester, said the original sample could have proved positive for pork because of cross-contamination.
"It's a difficult process to get right and ideally tests would be carried out at the site prior to being taken away," he said.
"Cross-contamination can come from numerous sources and it only takes a tiny amount to create different results.
"This could be from a knife, juices dripped from packing or from the lorry used to move produce around. That's why taking further samples is always necessary.
"However, I believe the council did the right thing by removing the burger as a precautionary measure."
Regular tests on school food have been carried out on behalf of the council since February.
All other halal products used in the council's kitchens are supplied by The Punjab Kitchen Ltd. Tests have shown they are halal compliant.