AFTER recalling nearly 9 million lb. of beef and with two agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture launching investigations, Rancho Feeding Corp. has voluntarily ceased operations.
Robert Singleton, one of the owners of Rancho, confirmed with local media early last week that the facility has agreed to halt operations and take appropriate actions with affected companies. He refused to comment further and referred all inquiries to USDA.
Rancho, a federally inspected animal processing facility serving Lake, Marin, Mendocino and Sonoma counties in California, concentrates on the high-end beef market by processing organic and grass-fed cattle.
Ranchers and meat processors are concerned that the closure will have a negative impact on the industry locally.
On Feb. 8, USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a Class 1 recall of 8.743 million lb. of beef products because the Petaluma, Cal., establishment processed "diseased and unsound animals" without a full federal inspection. As such, the products are considered adulterated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and have been recalled.
Additionally, in January, Rancho called back roughly 42,000 lb. of various meat products that also were not federally inspected.
All of the recalled meat products, which carry establishment number "Est. 527" inside the USDA mark of inspection, were processed from January 2013 to January 2014 and were shipped to retailers in California, Florida, Texas and Illinois.
The repetitive processing of meat products without a federal inspection prompted investigations by both FSIS and the USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
In response to an inquiry about the investigation, OIG stated that it is "conducting an ongoing investigation into Rancho Feeding Corp. The plant is currently shut down, and the FSIS administrator has directed an immediate and thorough examination of the firm's practices, procedures and management."
FSIS and OIG declined to comment on any details of the investigations or any future charges until the investigations are completed.
Jeremy Russell, North American Meat Assn. director of communications, told Feedstuffs that recalling a year's worth of beef products is uncommon, but it has been done in the past.
Notwithstanding, the Rancho recall is not the largest beef recall in U.S. history. In 2008, USDA ordered Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, Cal., to recall 143 million lb., which comprised the plant's entire production for two years.
Hallmark was charged with failure to prevent sick or weak animals from entering the U.S. food supply, similar to the Rancho allegation.
In the FSIS notice on Rancho, the wide range of recalled beef cuts listed represented the entire beef carcass, which could have been used for human and pet food.
Unfortunately, with the recall encompassing a year's worth of processing, it is possible that most of the meat has been consumed already, although no illness related to the recalled products has been reported thus far, according to FSIS.