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80 food distributors asked to return Rancho meat

Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma.

Conner Jay/The Press Democrat
Published: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.

The list of food distributors identified as having received some of the 8.7 million pounds of recalled meat handled by Rancho Feeding Corporation swelled to 80 on Friday, including schools, nonprofit agencies, food banks and churches throughout Sonoma County.

Facts

The recall

Rancho Feeding Corporation is recalling 8.7 million pounds of beef processed at the Petaluma facility between Jan. 1, 2013 and Jan. 8, 2014.
Beef carcasses and boxes of beef products bear the establishment number “EST. 527” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Each box bears the case code number ending in “3” or “4.”

Rancho voluntarily recalled all meat processed at the Petaluma slaughterhouse in 2013 and the first week of this year in response to two investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company, the last slaughterhouse in the North Bay, has ceased operations.

The USDA said in the recall that Rancho “processed diseased and unsound animals” without a full inspection. The meat products are “unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food” and must be removed from commerce, according to the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

No one in the past year has reported becoming ill from consuming the meat, which includes entire sides of beef, custom-ordered cuts, ground beef, tripe, glands, tongues and various veal cuts.

Despite numerous requests for further explanation, the USDA hasn't described what its investigators allege Rancho and its employees did.

That void of information has infuriated local ranchers and meat purveyors that have worked with Rancho for years, who say they are living under a shadow of the “diseased and unsound animals” allegation.

Rancho owners Robert Singleton and Jesse “Babe” Amaral have declined to comment on the recall.

A “retail distribution list” updated Friday by the USDA identifies 80 markets, butcher shops, churches, meat co-ops, schools, food banks and other nonprofit agencies the agency said received meat slaughtered at Rancho. It was shipped to distribution centers and retail shops in California, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Seventy-four of them are in California, three in Washington, two in Oregon and one in Florida.

Thirty are in Sonoma County, six in Napa County, five in Marin County and two in Lake County.

Some of the meat was distributed to nonprofit agencies that feed the needy, including churches and food pantries.

The list includes the Redwood Empire Food Bank, the Redwood Gospel Mission, the California Human Development Corporation, St. Eugene and St. Rose Catholic schools and Kid Street Learning Center, all in Santa Rosa; Food for Thought in Forestville; and the Community & Family Service Agency in Sebastopol.

The full list is available online and appears to be updated routinely.

David Goodman, executive director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, said his agency received 3,257 pounds of ground beef that was processed at Rancho.

The agency serves 175 agencies in the region and 34 of them received deliveries from the food bank, he said. Only two had any product remaining, he said.

One Sonoma County agency said it would destroy what little it still had. The other, in Lake County, was planning on returning less than 20 pounds of ground beef, the remainder of the 244 pounds it had received.

“For sure, whatever went through has been consumed,” Goodman said. “It's going to hungry people, so it's not like they're sitting on this stuff.”

The food bank distributes 14 million pounds of food a year.

“People really hope that this is for good cause, for the right reasons, that there is in fact something wrong with the product,” he said. “If it's not, there are hungry people that are not getting it.”

At the Redwood Gospel Mission, Executive Director Jeff Gilman said he hadn't heard the charitable agency was on the recall list. A subsequent search of the records showed the mission hadn't received any of the meat items listed in the recall, he said. The agency operates four Santa Rosa homeless shelters.

“We're all clear on our end,” Gilman said. “We went through the freezer and looked at all the inventory in both our two big walk-ins. We went through the list on the website and checked it against what we had in the freezer.”

He said the recall list includes stew meats and a variety of offal, which could include parts such as tripe, feet or tails.

“It's pretty clear it wasn't things we received,” Gilman said.

He said the mission and other charitable agencies may have been included as a precaution, as they receive meat donated from a variety of sources.

At Carolina Wild in northern Santa Rosa, butcher Dominic Bickford wondered who might step forward to take up the business should Rancho close its doors for good.

Bickford said he knew of one order received at Carolina Wild that put it on the recall list: a specific customer involving an entire cow. The beef was locally grown and slaughtered at Rancho and the carcass was sent to Carolina Wild to cut up for the local customer in June, he said.

“I've spoken with Rancho several times regarding the issue,” he said.

He feared the huge recall would cause a backlash on local small meat businesses: “Everybody's going to suffer to an extent.”

Jonathan Lewis, who runs a San Francisco meat-buying collective called Pastoral Plate, challenged the way the USDA has handled the recall. He said by not explaining what investigators believe happened, the recall indicts everyone who has had Rancho process meats.

“It seems like it's a vast overreaction from what we've heard,” he said. “The whole artisanal food industry is going to suffer. How can they shut down a whole industry and not tell us why?

“Maybe it's a billion times more serious than we've heard, but how would we know when they don't say what it is?”

Many small ranchers take their grass-fed, pasture-raised animals to Rancho. They care about how their animals are treated, slaughtered and butchered, he said.

“Now their product falls under the same shadow,” he said. “No one's gotten sick, so go figure.”

(Staff Writer Randi Rossmann contributed to this report.)

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