Rancho Feeding recall expands across U.S.

Rancho Feeding Corporation's beef recall expanded across the United States and into Canada on Tuesday, as corporate giants such as Walmart and Nestl?warned consumers to return items ranging from beef jerky to frozen Hot Pocket sandwiches.

The food distributors named in the recall grew from less than 100 establishments on Saturday to more than 1,000 on Tuesday afternoon. The recall by the Petaluma slaughterhouse now affects retailers in 29 states and five Canadian provinces, according to government and company websites.

"This thing is growing by leaps and bounds," said Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "Where this ends, I still do not know."

Rancho is recalling all 8.7 million pounds of beef processed at the plant in 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has asserted that Rancho "processed diseased animals" without a full inspection. The USDA has not received any reports of illness linked to the meat, the agency said last week.

Rancho, a small processor of both older dairy cows and niche, pasture-raised beef cattle, announced last week that it has ceased operations at the plant on Petaluma Boulevard North. One of its owners said the company undertook the recall "out of an abundance of caution," but declined to answer further questions.

Along with the recall, the USDA has revealed that the company is facing a two-pronged investigation. Both the department's Office of Inspector General and its Food Safety and Inspection Service are conducting separate probes of Rancho.

Neither the owners nor the USDA responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

Last week the first retailers to be named under the Rancho recall were North Bay supermarkets. But Tuesday's updates included such regional and national chains as Kroger, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer and Raley's.

The USDA's list gives no indication of the particular products carried at the stores. To date only a few retailers and food manufacturers have announced specific products that are linked to the Rancho recall. Consumers are asked to bring those items back for refunds.

Among those companies is Nestl? which on Friday announced a voluntary recall of some Hot Pockets frozen sandwiches. The recall targets Philly Steak and Cheese and Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese frozen sandwiches produced at its Chatsworth, Calif., plant.

The recalled items stem from 14 days worth of production, a Nestl?spokeswoman said. Identical products made at a Nestl?plant in Kentucky aren't affected and customers need to review the batch codes on labels to know whether a particular item is subject to the recall.

The products' "best by" dates range from March 2014 to December 2014. The items were produced over many months, the spokeswoman said, and the company has yet to estimate the number of Hot Pockets produced with Rancho's meat.

In a statement, Nestl?reported that its staff reviewed vendor records and learned that "a small quantity of meat from Rancho" had been used at the Southern California plant. The meat was purchased through a third party, not directly from Rancho.

The recalled Hot Pockets were distributed nationally, the Nestl?spokeswoman said.

Among the retailers alerting consumers of the recalled Hot Pockets was Walmart. The nation's largest retailer also posted another Rancho-related recall, namely for frozen hamburger patties.

The hamburger patties, produced by Jensen Meat Company of San Diego, were distributed to Walmart stores in 16 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Jensen said it has ceased all business with Rancho.

"In the 56-year history of Jensen Meat Company, we have never experienced or been involved in initiating any type of product recall," Jensen chief operating officer Abel Olivera said in a statement. "We hold quality and food safety as paramount to everything that we do at Jensen and we expect the same from our vendors. We will not deviate from this commitment."

A third manufacturer, Tillamook Country Smoker of Bay City, Ore., acknowledged in a press release Tuesday that it was recalling some products made prior to October 2013. The products note the inclusion of "ground, formed or sectioned and formed" meat, as well as "some jerky chew" products.

The company didn't mention specific items, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's website listed product codes for two Tillamook Country Smoker products: 75-count packages of the Teriyaki Beef Jerky and 80-count packages of Loonies Beef Jerky.

"Crown Star Food Distributors Ltd. and Wallace & Carey Ltd., are recalling various Tillamook Country Smoker brand beef jerky products from the marketplace because they are believed to pose a risk," according to a statement on the website. "Consumers should not consume the recalled products described below."

The products were distributed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan, the website said.