The restaurant chain Whitbread has apologised after it was found to be serving “beef lasagne” in which more than a third of the meat content was actually pork.
The Sun reported that almost 250,000 of the affected dishes were sold over three months at scores of the company’s outlets including Brewers Fayre, Table Table and Whitbread Inn.
It said menus in some of the 99 restaurants still described the dish as “beef lasagne” while ingredient labels, unseen by customers, showed that it contained 4.5% pork, or more than a third of the meat content in the dish.
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Whitbread’s supplier, Creative Foods from Flint in north Wales, was also involved in the horsemeat scandal in 2013. Tests found it supplied Whitbread with lasagne containing traces of horsemeat.
Whitbread claimed it had not flouted food labelling laws.
But in a statement it admitted that it failed to update its online menus after changing its “beef lasagne” to a more authentic lasagne recipe that included pork.
It said: “We mistakenly, and with no ill intent, missed updating the website/online menus for our Table Table and Whitbread Inns brands, but as soon as we were alerted to this we corrected them. This was a genuine mistake on our part and we sincerely apologise to customers if this resulted in any confusion when they were presented with the correct menu at the restaurant.”
Creative Foods has not commented.
A Whitbread staff member told the Sun that management refused to clear up the confusion when the pork content was pointed out.
The whistleblower is quoted as saying: “I spotted the packs marked ‘beef lasagne’ started coming in as ‘meat lasagne’. I looked at the ingredients and noticed it actually contains pork and beef.
“I queried it with management but they didn’t care. Three months on and the menus still say beef lasagne, and waiters have not been told to warn customers.”
Although many traditional recipes for lasagne include both beef and pork, misleading menus offering “beef lasagne” risk offending Jews and Muslims, whose religions forbid eating pork.
Prof Chris Elliott, from Queen’s University Belfast and director of the Institute for Global Food Security, said Whitbread’s error was “unacceptable”.
In an email to the Guardian, he said: “It should be obvious to all in the food industry that there are enormous sensitivities around this in terms of religious beliefs.
“We seem to be faced with a case where pork has been knowingly added to a food that should be totally pork-free. Correctly labelled food is not only a matter of legislation but also having high moral and ethical standards. If the product is advertised as beef lasagne then this is exactly what it should be.”
Elliott also expressed alarm that Whitbread’s error had come so soon after the horsemeat scandal.
He said: “We all should remember the lessons of the horsemeat scandal, where the introduction of horsemeat to many products was aided and abetted by those who were driven to buy meat as cheaply as possible.
“Perhaps even more concerning is that the issue was flagged up to some staff members and they chose to ignore it. This suggests that Whitbread need not only to bring about a change in how they procure but also the culture within their organisation.”