(AFP) - Horsemeat has been found in ground beef supplied to Taco Bell's three restaurants in Britain after tests sparked by Europe's sprawling food scandal, the US fast food giant said Friday.
Taco Bell said it was "disappointed" by the discovery and had immediately withdrawn ground beef from the restaurants, two of which are in shopping centres in Essex, east of London, and one of which is in Manchester, northwest England.
"Food quality is our highest priority, and when the news of mislabelled beef products surfaced we voluntarily carried out tests on the ground beef supplied to our three Taco Bell restaurants in the UK," the Tex-Mex chain said.
"Based on that testing, we were very disappointed to learn that some batches of ground beef supplied to us from one supplier in Europe tested positive for horsemeat.
"We immediately withdrew ground beef from sale in our restaurants, discontinued purchase of that meat, and contacted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with this information."
The FSA also announced on Friday that horsemeat was found in beef products sold by frozen food giant Bird's Eye and catering supplier Brakes, in the third round of food testing since the scandal first emerged in January.
Taco Bell's ground beef, Brakes's spicy minced beef skewers and lasagnes and spaghetti bolognese made by Bird's Eye were all found to contain more than one percent horsemeat.
Millions of ready meals have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe after tests revealed that meat labelled as beef actually contained large quantities of horsemeat.
The row has embroiled major international corporations including Swedish furniture chain Ikea and Nestle, the Swiss food giant.
Governments have been scrambling to figure out how and where the mislabelling happened in a sprawling chain of production spanning abattoirs and meat suppliers across the continent.
The European Union's health commissioner said on Thursday that the bloc is planning stiffer sanctions against food fraud in the wake of the scandal.