Meat recall case shows food safety infractions resulting in more prison terms

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge has sentenced two men involved in a 2014 nationwide meat recall (8.7 million pounds) following a scheme to bypass federal inspections and process diseased and condemned cattle at Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, CA.
  • Rancho Feeding Corp. business partner Robert Singleton received three months in prison and three months of home confinement. Longtime slaughterhouse yardman Eugene Corda received six months of home confinement and three years of probation.
  • Both men received leniency for their cooperation with federal prosecutors to offer up information about the slaughterhouse co-owner Jesse "Babe" Amaral Jr., who received a one-year prison sentence last month.

Dive Insight:

The recalled meat in this case was either not inspected or had been designated unfit for human consumption, including cattle that had eye cancer. Prosecutors alleged that employees would work while federal inspectors were on their lunch breaks and at times carved out "condemned" stamps from cattle carcasses.

In his court papers, Singleton said he believed Amaral and the slaughterhouse foreman would be able to tell the difference between safe and dangerous meat and "that Bob at the time never believed that dangerous meat would ever be passed through to consumers."

The details of this case concerned and outraged the public and led to demands for updates to the USDA inspection process. Incidents like this have also led to a "new norm" for food safety cases: criminal charges for executives, and occasionally employees.

Prison sentences are becoming more common punishments for food safety infractions, even if only for a few months. Last week, William B. Aossey Jr. received a two-year federal prison sentence in his case for mislabeling Halal beef and exporting it from unapproved facilities, which also involved no illnesses or deaths. For the Department of Justice, fines haven't been enough to send the message of food safety's importance, so jail time has become a more common punishment.

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Filed Under: Corporate Food Safety
Top image credit: Blue Waikiki