Tesco own-brand ice creams that were withdrawn from sale after they were found to contain painkiller tablets may have been contaminated deliberately, police have said.
North Yorkshire Police’s major crime unit, which was set up to investigate serious offences, is leading the inquiry into the food scare which resulted in the supermarket issuing a nationwide recall of the product in November following the discovery of pills by two customers.
The cornets were manufactured by R&R Ice Cream at its plant in Leeming Bar near Northallerton in North Yorkshire. It is one of Europe’s biggest ice cream makers, whose product range includes the Fab lolly as well as Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles lollies and the Skinny Cow. The Tesco chocolate and nut ice cream cones have not been sold since the Food Standards Agency advised consumers not to eat them and to return any items they may have stored in the freezer. No arrests have been made so far in the police inquiry.
Detective Superintendent Dai Malyn, who leads the unit which led the review into the investigation of the 2009 disappearance of university chef Claudia Lawrence, said his team was treating the incident as suspicious and his “gut instinct” suggested it was deliberate.
“What we have got to try and identify was how and where and who was responsible for that contamination and was it deliberate contamination,” he said. “With the process chain of all the ingredients that go into making an item like that, we don’t know for sure where that contamination took place.
If it was felt to be accidental from the outset, the resources, we have put into it probably wouldn’t be to the scale we have done. We have got to look at it as we think it’s suspicious unless we prove otherwise.
R&R has been making ice cream for Tesco since it was founded as Richmond Ice Cream in 1985. It sells and distributes products in Germany, France and Poland as well as the UK. None of its other brands are affected by the inquiry. Peter Pickthall, human resources director of R&R, said 450 people worked at the plant although none had been suspended. The company employs 750 staff in the UK.
“From our point of view we are focusing on trying to discover how the contamination occurred. Only two contaminated cones have been found and we are back in full production on the cone line,” he said.
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “As a precautionary measure, we issued a product recall on Tesco chocolate and nut ice cream cones in November, after two individual cones were found to contain tablets.
“We are currently investigating this incident with our supplier and we are helping the police with their inquiries.”
North Yorkshire Police said the contamination had been assessed as a low risk to public health.