Hundreds of thousands of people may have been infected with Hepatitis E from German and Dutch pork products, according to Public Health England (PHE).
Researchers at the Government body estimated that about 150,000 – 200,000 Britons were catching the virus every year from sausages and pre-packed ham sold at a prominent UK retailer, known only as ‘Supermarket X’.
The Sunday Times claimed two separate sources had named Tesco as the retailer at the heart of the scandal.
Looking for the source of the outbreaks, PHE found consumption of the supermarket’s own-brand sausages had been a common factor among those infected with the virus.
Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association (NPA), said: “The NPA is pleased to see human cases of HEV in the UK are dropping, but we recommend consumers follow advice from the Food Standards Agency that pork and sausages should be cooked thoroughly until steaming hot throughout, with no pink or red in the centre, to greatly reduce any risk of infection.”
The study from PHE was completed in early 2016, but had not been released until now because of its ‘sensitivity’.
A continental practice of collecting the blood of slaughtered pigs then adding it, unsterilised, to meat after processing is thought to have contributed to the virus’ spread.
A Tesco spokesman said: “We work very closely with the FSA and PHE to make sure customers can be confident in the safety and quality of the food they buy.
"This particular research was carried out six years ago on a small number of people, and although it provided no direct link between specific products and hepatitis E we always take care to review research findings such as this.
"Food quality is really important to us and we have in place an expert team to ensure the highest possible standards at every stage of our supply chain, as well as providing clear information to customers on how to handle and cook pork in the home to minimise the risk of hepatitis E.”
The news follows a recent eggs scandal which saw 700,000 Dutch eggs contaminated with the insecticide fipronil enter the UK food chain.
Twitter users have already taken to the site to push for shoppers to buy British in the wake of the revelations.
Farmers Guardian has approached PHE for comment.