Frozen food maker Findus has denied accusations it should have responded more swiftly following the discovery its frozen beef lasagne was potentially contaminated it with horse meat.

The food group was alerted by a supplier, Comigel, that there was a potential issue with the beef in its ready-made lasagne on Saturday 2 February. Comigel warned the lasagne could potentially have been contaminated from last August.

Product was withdrawn from the shelves and retailers were alerted “the following working day” – Monday 4 February – a spokesperson for Findus told just-food. A full recall was initiated “on confirmation of the contamination”, with tests coming back positive for horse DNA on Wednesday, the spokesperson added.

However, Findus has come under fire for failing to initiate a full recall sooner. Labour MP Tom Watson has insisted in a public letter that the firm should be held to account.

“For over a week Findus have known that they could not guarantee the contents of their beef lasagne for over six months. Think about that for a moment. How did they let that happen? Why didn’t they respond? I think Findus are negligent,” Watson insisted.

Responding to the criticism, Findus emphasised it was only made aware of the potential problem one day prior to removing it from the shelves.

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“Findus want to be absolutely explicit that they were not aware of any issue of contamination with horse meat last year,” the spokesperson emphasised. “They were only made aware of a possible August 2012 date through a letter dated 2 February 2013 from the supplier Comigel. By then Findus was already conducting a full supply chain traceability review and had pro-actively initiated DNA testing”.  

The spokesperson added Findus has since increased its outbound communications, placing ads in the weekend papers in order to alert consumers to the issue and “allay any fears”.

The company has also been forced to recall branded products containing beef in continetal Europe, with recalls initiated in France and Sweden.