By Catherine Hornby and Caroline Copley
ROME/ZURICH Feb 23 Italy's Health Ministry said on Saturday that tests had found no trace of horse DNA in minced beef meals by Swiss food giant Nestle that were removed from sale on Monday.
Nestle removed the ready-made beef ravioli and tortellini sold under its Buitoni brand from shelves in Italy and Spain and halted production of the meals after its own tests had found more than 1 percent horse DNA in the products.
Italian authorities seized 26 tonnes of affected beef products on Thursday after Nestle withdrew the meals - the latest company to become embroiled in the scandal that has highlighted the complexities of Europe's food chain.
"No trace of horse DNA has been found in Nestle cooked and frozen minced beef," the ministry said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear what the outcome was of the tests of the food seized in Spain.
The Italian tests were carried out on beef products that had been stored at the Safim plant near Turin, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Italy also ordered the seizure on Saturday of about 6 tonnes of frozen beef lasagne made by Italian group PRIMIA after tests showed the presence of horse meat, an official with Italy's NAS, a police unit that monitors health and safety standards, told Reuters.
A Nestle spokesman welcomed the ministry's decision to release its products.
"We are happy the ministry's tests came back negative," spokesman Chris Hogg said in an email to Reuters.
"Our focus now though is on restarting production of these products today and tomorrow with a new supplier, using beef we have tested to ensure it contains no horse DNA."
The Swiss company had suspended production of the affected goods at its Moretta factory, in Piedmont, on Monday, the spokesman said.
Nestle had also suspended deliveries of all products using beef from German subcontractor H.J. Schypke.
The pan-European scandal has prompted widespread product withdrawals, consumer concern and government investigations into the continent's food processing systems.
Although horse meat poses little or no health risk, the discoveries have damaged the confidence of consumers in supermarkets and fast-food chains since it was first identified in Irish beefburgers.