Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Distributors quarantine corned beef pending probe

Published:Wednesday | March 22, 2017 | 3:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
A platter of corned beef.

Some of Jamaica's main corned beef distributors said they will keep inventories in quarantine pending the findings of an investigation the Government has launched into the quality of the product packaged and imported from Brazil.

The Government has banned the importation of corned beef from the South American country and ordered the product off grocery shelves after reports that beef not fit for human consumption was being used by Brazil's meat processors.

The scandal has embarrassed Brazil as countries cut off imports.

In Jamaica, Andrea Coy, the chief executive officer of GraceKennedy Foods - Domestic, said the Government indicated it needed two weeks to conclude investigations.

"Therefore, we are going to quarantine the inventory, meaning it's blocked for sale, and await the findings of those investigations," Coy told Gleaner Business. "We are actively going to be supporting the Government in conducting the investigations."

'SIGNIFICANT ENOUGH' IMPACT

As to the impact of the withdrawal on the company's income, Coy said corned beef is an important product for GK Food's portfolio, "so it's significant enough".

But she also commented that the conglomerate's focus now was not its own bottom line, but ensuring consumer safety.

"We developed a good relationship with our consumers who trust us. So all our focus right now - all the discussions internally thus far - really has been around making sure that we are communicating with our consumers, making sure that they feel comfortable, and working alongside the local authorities to complete the investigation in as short a time as possible," Coy said.

Jamaica imports all corned beef consumed locally, with Brazil accounting for more than 99 per cent of supplies.

Musson Jamaica and Lasco Distributors, which also distribute corned beef sourced from Brazil, also said they are cooperating with the Government's directives.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Musson Group, Paul B. Scott, said the current inventory will not be sold.

Scott said the company imports "quite a lot" of corned beef from Brazil, but that withdrawal of the product from the shelves should not affect its bottom line too much.

Lasco Distributors' marketing manager, Kelia Dunbar, said the company will keep the current inventory in quarantine until the investigation is complete, but said the likely financial impact was unclear.

"I couldn't say at this point in time because we don't know what the investigation will reveal," she told Gleaner Business.

None of the companies said how much corned beef they import annually, nor were Bureau of Standards Jamaica or the Statistical Institute of Jamaica able to immediately provide data on the overall quantities imported. The point person in the Veterinary Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Osbil Watson, to whom Gleaner Business was referred, was unavailable for comment.

Coy says as of now, there are no suspected batches, as is now widely speculated. The Jamaican authorities just want to verify that the contaminated meat has not been used in the production of corned beef supplied to Jamaica, she explained.

"I think that part of what the local authorities will attempt to do is just to see what is the quality of the products being used in the production of corned beef to satisfy themselves, and we will be doing likewise," she said.

RANDOM TESTING

GraceKennedy audits its products against the certification agreed with suppliers.

"We do random testing here of products that come in to ensure that the products conform to specs. Our tests did not reveal what the speculation is out there. The British Retail Consortium would ensure they go in and audit the supplier and, by virtue of them issuing a certificate, we rely on that to assure us that the product is meeting quality control," Coy explained.

The British Retail Consortium standard is used by leading manufacturers across the world and sets out strict requirements as it relates to manufacturing, food safety and quality control systems, GraceKennedy said in an issued statement.

As to what consumers should do in the interim, Coy said their guidance is two-fold.

"You can retain your purchases until further guided by the outcome of the investigation or you can return the product that you purchased to any retail and ask for a refund," the GK executive said.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com