China’s Latest Meat Scandal Is Gross—but Is It Dangerous?

Expired products were sold to Chinese fast-food restaurants.

(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images))

Jul 21, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Just last December news broke that the chicken served at KFC locations in China—the country’s largest fast-food chain—was raised with high amounts of antibiotics and other drugs. Sales at the restaurant took a hit, dropping 37 percent in January. Now the fried-chicken chain’s Chinese outposts, along with other familiar names in fast food, are involved in a meaty new scandal. This time, drugs aren’t the culprit—time is. One of the meat processors that supplies the restaurants was caught selling expired meat, according to Chinese media.

The offending Shanghai factory, Husi Food Co. Ltd., is owned by OSI Group LLC, based in the Chicago suburbs. The company, which processes meat for packaged products and fast-food restaurants, is a giant in the industry, with $5.9 billion in revenue in 2013.

Husi supplies meat to a number of chains, including McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut. All three companies say they have stopped using meat from Husi. More than 2,000 McDonald’s locations were using meat from the Shanghai processor.

An investigative report by Shanghai-based Dragon TV shows workers in the plant picking meat up off the dirty-looking floor and throwing it back into a processing machine. Some of the workers refer to the products as “stinky meat.”

What’s unclear about the fate of this “stale” meat, as the report from Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, calls it, is how exactly it’s being reprocessed. The shelf life of the repackaged Chicken Nuggets, burgers, and other fast-food meats “was prolonged for another year.” Frozen chicken nuggets from Tyson have a shelf life of one year and like most foods, may remain safe to eat far past that date. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Agency says that foods kept consistently at a temperature of zero degrees or below will “always be safe.” McNuggets are delivered frozen to McDonald’s locations, as are the hamburger patties. In the Dragon TV report, one worker said of the reprocessed meat that “eating it wouldn’t kill you.”

That’s a low bar, of course. If the frozen, expired products were being defrosted to be reprocessed, the thawed items were at risk of being contaminated—by, say, being dropped on a filthy floor.