Last week, Petaluma company Rancho Feeding Corp. was forced to recall nearly 9 million pounds of beef that had come from its slaughterhouse. Although no human illnesses have been reported, the recall was enacted because of diseased animals processed in the plant. Because the 9 million pounds of beef came from over 1,000 producers, the list of products that use the meat is long. The nearly full list of items recalled because of the tainted beef can be found here.
Christine Bruhn, a PhD in consumer behavior and food science at UC Davis, said that if you have food that has been recalled -- meat or vegetables -- you should return it to the place you bought it and receive a refund.
"If there's been a recall, that's serious and it's not to be taken lightly," said Bruhn.
People often think that if the food doesn't look bad or doesn't taste bad -- even though it's been recalled -- then it's fine, but that's absolutely not the case, said Bruhn. There have been more than a few examples, she said, of people knowing their food was recalled, but thinking they could just cook it longer or that it seemed ok, and then getting sick from the bacteria or contamination.
"Don't eat it. Don't try to cook it longer. Don't say, 'oh it looks alright,'" she said.
All food recalls can be found on USDA's website's list of recalls.
Bruhn points out, though, that if it's a serious or large recall then it will typically be covered in the local news, as this beef recall has been.
The slaughterhouse initially recalled a smaller amount of beef in January, reportedly because of a problem with inspections. That, however, was expanded last week and there is now a federal investigation over attempts to deliberately deceive inspectors. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that those attempts at deception included selling meat from cows with eye cancer after chopping off their heads to avoid detection.
While no people have become sick from this beef, ordering a recall is costly to the businesses, said Bruhn, so regulators don't do it lightly. Consumers are supposed to get their money back when they return a recalled item.
In fact, this is so costly that some local well-known ranchers, like Bill Niman, have said they could lose $300,000-$400,000 from throwing away thousands of pounds of meat that was processed at the facility.
All of these issues have caused the slaughterhouse to shut down, which is problematic for meat producers in the Bay Area like Niman. Since that was the only slaughterhouse in the area, many of the local beef farms in the region are now having to travel hours to have their meat processed. This, in some cases, is counter-intuitive to the mission of local, grass-fed meat.
That's why David Evans, of Marin Sun Farms, announced his plans to buy and operate the slaughterhouse. If those plans go through, it could still be months before the slaughterhouse reopens.
David Evans spoke on KQED's Forum about his plans. Listen here:
KQED's Mina Kim also spoke with food safety experts about the investigation into the slaughterhouse: