Since mid-January when authorities in Ireland discovered horse meat in burgers labeled as beef in several supermarkets, more than a dozen other countries have found horse meat in processed products such as burger patties, lasagnas, meat pies and pastas.

Now IKEA joins the ignominious ranks of companies selling mislabeled meat that contains horse. The Swedish furniture giant announced that it has recalled a batch of its Kottbullar meatballs that had been distributed to 13 European countries.

It was in an IKEA branch in the Czech Republic where inspectors from that country’s food regulator discovered the tainted product. Inspectors all over Europe have been testing meat since the scandal began spreading across the continent.

Although known more for affordable yuppie mod home products with unpronounceable names rather than comestibles, the company earned $1.72 billion in food revenue last year through sales of Swedish specialties in the stores’ cafeterias and small grocery sections. The cafeterias’ Swedish meatballs topped with cream sauce fuel hungry kids and tired shoppers, while bags of frozen meatballs and jars of lingonberry jam can be purchased to bring extra Swedish flair to a newly purchased Björkudden dining table back at home.

IKEA spokeswoman Ylva Magnusson said that the affected batch of frozen meatballs had been removed from all the countries to which they were distributed: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France, the U.K., Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland. And to dissipate worry in the domestic market, the company pulled both frozen and restaurant meatballs throughout Sweden, even though the affected batch hadn't been distributed there.

Even if there are a number of countries that use horse meat in an array of dishes and delicacies, for many cultures the idea of equine cuisine is utterly taboo. But in addition to the consumer-repulsion factor and the basic transgression of mislabeling, the scandal speaks to the more complicated problems involved in processed food products and the importance of being able to follow a supply chain.

With traditionally low margins in processed foods, manufacturers commonly seek out the cheapest ingredients, often sourcing products from suppliers in different countries who may have also subcontracted from others. Apparently, sometimes a bit of horse — and who knows what else — gets lumped in with the mix.

Monitoring every step in the production chain can be exceedingly difficult. The Wall Street Journal notes, “the furor has raised concerns about the complex network of slaughterhouses and suppliers that handle food on its way to the dinner table and the controls governing food transported across borders.” The scandal has resulted in a number of countries calling emergency meetings to try and stave off further problems.

In the meantime, IKEA is testing samples from the tainted meatballs to figure out how much horse meat they contained. If it is less than 1 percent, the products would typically be categorized as having been tainted during production rather than actually mixed with horse meat, making the contamination within the error of margin. IKEA said the test results are expected later this week.

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Horse meat found in IKEA meatballs
The hip Scandinavian superstore becomes the latest company affected by the broadening scandal.