McDonald's Japan unveils 'tofu nuggets' after China meat scandal

TOKYO - McDonald's restaurants in Japan are turning to time-honoured Asian soul food - tofu - as the chain scrambles to minimise the damage from an embarrassing tainted meat scandal in China.

The fast-food giant's more than 3,000 restaurants in Japan on Wednesday started selling "Tofu Shinjo" nuggets modelled on a traditional side dish that meshes tofu, vegetables and fish.

For 249 yen (S$3), customers can sink their teeth into four pieces of the chicken-free creation.

The rollout comes days after the firm said that its Japanese restaurants had stopped sourcing poultry products from a nugget supplier in Shanghai, in response to a scandal that saw expired meat sold to fast food giants.

On Tuesday, McDonald's Japan President Sarah Casanova made a televised apology, as she warned the "appalling" incident - and subsequent switch to chicken suppliers in Thailand to plug the gap - would depress company profits.

The disgraced factory and other Chinese distributors had supplied nearly 40 per cent of the chicken used for McDonald's Japanese restaurants.

A company spokeswoman said Wednesday that, despite its fortuitous timing, the tofu offering had been in the works before China's latest food safety scandal.

"It is a part of wider, limited-time-only offering for the summer featuring a Japanese-style menu," she said.

At the chain's restaurants in mainland China, notices posted at every cash register told customers in Chinese and English: "We regret to let you know that currently we will only be able to provide a limited menu at our restaurant.

"At McDonald's we strictly comply with the applicable laws, regulations and the related standards. Thank you for your understanding." In Shanghai, where the factory at the heart of the scandal has been shut down by authorities, the chain's trademark Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets were unavailable.

"It's the same situation, only fries and drinks - that sort of food - are available," an operator from the McDonald's delivery hotline said, adding: "It's the same nationwide." In Hong Kong, the chain said it has disposed of 43 tonnes of food products produced by the closed factory since Monday.

"The food products were first sealed before they were sent to the city's landfills under the inspection of the authorities," said a company spokeswoman.