The companies said yesterday they had immediately stopped using meat from the supplier, Husi Food Co Ltd.
The Shanghai office of China’s food and drug agency (FDA) said it was investigating and told customers to stop using the supplier’s products. It is the latest in a series of food safety scares in China that have damaged public confidence.
Dragon TV claimed Husi, owned by OSI Group of Aurora, Illinois, in the United States, repackaged old beef and chicken and put new expiry dates on them. It said they were sold to McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants.
McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said they were conducting their own inquiries.
“Food safety is a top priority for McDonald’s,” the company said. It added that it had “zero tolerance for illegal behaviour”.
A third company, sandwich shop chain Dicos, said it had stopped using sausage patties supplied by Husi. Dicos has about 2,000 outlets in China.
The Shanghai FDA office said it was working with police to investigate Husi. It said: “The company has been sealed and suspect products seized.”
McDonald’s sealed 4,500 cases of beef, pork, chicken and other products supplied by Husi for investigation and Pizza Hut sealed 500 cases of seasoned beef.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted a company manager, Yang Liqun, as saying that Husi had a strict quality control system and would co-operate in the investigation.
Shanghai’s Communist Party secretary, Han Zheng, called for “severe punishment” of any wrongdoing.
KFC is China’s biggest restaurant chain, with more than 4,000 outlets. It plans to open 700 more this year.
The company was badly hurt after state television reported in December 2013 that some poultry suppliers had violated rules on drug use in chickens. Yum Brands said KFC sales in China plunged 37 per cent the following month.
KFC launched an effort to tighten control of product quality and cut more than 1,000 small poultry producers out of its supply network.
In a string of product scandals over the past decade in China, infants, hospital patients and others have been killed or harmed by phony or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods.
Foreign fast-food brands are seen as more reliable than Chinese competitors, though local brands have made big improvements in quality. The high profile of foreign brands means any complaints involving them attract attention, while they also have less political influence and Chinese media can publicise their troubles more freely.
Scandal-weary consumers yesterday expressed mixed feelings.
Chen Lu, 24, was eating a chicken burger and fries at a McDonald’s in central Shanghai that was half-empty at midday.
She said: “My boyfriend called and told me not to eat McDonald’s one minute after I ordered, but what can I do? I’ve already ordered and I am in a hurry.
“I am worried about my health. I will try to avoid it, at least for a while. I am pretty disappointed in this brand.”
But Liu Kun, 24, said he was not concerned: “The incident won’t change me eating here. There have been negative reports all the time. McDonald and KFC are leaders in the industry.”