Rash business suspensions and product recalls have the power to destroy small businesses like ours. While the inspectors seek to prove their judiciousness in finding any and every potential problem, to us it feels like abusive, overzealous, heavy-handed regulation rather than guidance and assistance to make us a better operation or to keep the public safe.
That's an excerpt from a letter sent yesterday to Congressman Doug Lamborn
(and Senator Michael Bennet
) from Mike Callicrate at Ranch Foods Direct.
The letter also details a situation on Nov. 4 in which Callicrate says Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) workers nearly issued another recall, this time over RFD's USDA-approved Wagyu label. He says he was only given "a few hours" to provide necessary documentation, and that the FSIS "officers on-site seemed hell-bent on issuing the Wagyu recall despite the fact that no Wagyu beef had been sold in the wholesale market, which is the part of our business that is under USDA’s authority."
You can read his full letter here, as well as an attached supporting document and the FSIS letters to RFD from October's recall:
——- SECOND UPDATE: TUESDAY, OCT. 27, 10:32 A.M. ——-
Mike Callicrate emailed this morning to say, "we are back in business."
Just yesterday, he shared the impact of the recall thus far: $60,000 in lost wholesale sales last week, he says.
Under the recall, he couldn't distribute to his wholesale clients, though the retail front remained open for business.
When the recall was posted, it meant the USDA suspended GFC/RFD's ability to produce wholesale under USDA inspection. While under suspension, GFC/RFD had to work to come back in compliance and earn reinstatement, which just arrived this morning.
"We can't tell how much wholesale business we have lost until we try to reconnect," he says.
——FIRST UPDATE: TUESDAY, OCT. 20, 4:54 P.M. ——
We noticed a dialogue start on the comments section of this post, in-part regarding sodium nitrite. I received another call yesterday from a concerned reader, asking for clarification on that same topic, and I did some browsing to find info
, but didn't find myself satisfied either. So I decided to shoot an email back to Mike Callicrate seeking more info.
Calibrate provided more links, including this one
and this one
, and also sent a revised recall statement to customers, which alters the wording a bit from what's posted below. Here it is in its entirety:
The recent federal recall notice is strictly a labeling problem, not a product quality issue.
All of the food items for sale in our store have been produced in the same way we have always produced them, using the same high quality ingredients and safe methods. The store at 2901 N. El Paso is open and operating like it always has, while we work to resolve this labeling issue with the USDA.
There is a reference to sodium nitrite in the recall notice, which is related to our failure to include a full ingredient list on product that was destined for wholesale customers. Curing agents, regardless of whether they are natural or artificial, end up being converted to sodium nitrite in cured products. The small amounts of sodium nitrite present in smoked and cured products are not unhealthy. In fact, they are a necessary preservative in cured meats that kill bad bacteria.
We appreciate the ongoing loyalty and support of our many customers who share our commitment to a more local, personal, transparent and community-based food system.
As always, we thank you for your continued business.
— Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct
And, regarding the use of celery powder in particular, see this USDA posting
This is an excerpt from the Weston A. Price Foundation article I linked to above (including footnotes):
NITRATES, NITRITES AND THE NITROGEN CYCLE
But aren’t nitrates and nitrites dangerous? Yes, and no. Nitrates are natural products of the nitrogen cycle and found in water, plants and animals. Approximately 80 percent of dietary nitrates are derived from vegetable consumption, and nitrites are naturally present in saliva, in the gut and indeed in all mammalian tissue.62 Clearly, we cannot be pro plant based diet and anti nitrates!
Levels of nitrite naturally increase in the body to help boost oxygen when people live at high altitudes, and such people are often considered among the healthiest in the world. 63 In short, nitrites are not a problem, provided our diets are rich enough in antioxidants to facilitate the conversion of nitrites to NO and to prevent nitrosation reactions that convert nitrites into carcinogenic nitrosamines.
It’s obviously important to avoid eating readymade sources of nitrosamines, such as occur in soy protein isolates, non-fat dry milk and other products that have undergone acid washes, flame drying or high temperature spray-drying processes.64,65 People are also exposed to nitrosamines from some types of beer, cigarettes, nipples of baby bottles and the rubber used with braces in orthodontics.66,67 In other words, nitrosamines don’t just come from cured meets. Furthermore, the nitrosamine content in cured meats has gone way down over the past few decades.68
As for environmental damage from nitrates, this problem comes from the land use abuses of factory farming.
I also asked Callicrate another question: We spoke about the retail/wholesale labeling factor being the sticky point mostly, but could you further comment or elaborate on how you got punished by the inspector for having sodium nitrite in there if it wasn’t added somehow?
We aren’t saying sodium nitrite isn’t in our bacon. We tell our customers. If it is sold in the wholesale market with the shield of inspection, it has to be on the label – not so for retail exempt product.
—— ORIGINAL POST, 4:54 P.M., TUESDAY, OCT. 20 ——
Early last week, Mike Callicrate
and employees at Good Food Concepts
and Ranch Foods Direct
were notified that the USDA
would be visiting to conduct a food safety assessment
By Friday, a USDA inspector with whom the outfit usually doesn't work, according to Callicrate, issued a recall
on beef, pork and poultry products that were supposedly "produced without a fully implemented HACCP plan, and misbranded."
Of course the word "recall" sounds like "death" to a food business, based on how folks have been sickened and killed by food safety issues in the past, from Jack in the Box's E. coli nightmare
to salmonella scares in spinach
The first thing Callicrate wants consumers to know about the recall is "it's not a food safety issue at all, this is about labelling. Never in 15 years have we sold an unsafe pound of beef. We've never made anyone sick."
Callicrate can't help but feel picked on a bit, believing he's been targeted by the EPA
in the past, as well as the IRS, back in the late 90s when he'd filed a lawsuit against big beef packer IBP. He says at that time, they're exhaustive audit that disrupted his business ended up showing that they owed him $95.
"These big companies have a lot of power," he warns. "I've put myself in this position, I'm ready for it."
But fully realizing that he must play nice with the USDA in order to get reinstated now, he says he'll act completely within a spirit of willingness to cooperate by laying out the necessary corrective actions.
"I have to admit, we've missed some packaging requirements and there should have been a label where there wasn't one. People make mistakes, but it is BS to have a Class I Recall, that's for E. coli and Listeria and stuff."
He says the distinguishing between retail and wholesale label requirements is essentially where RFD got into trouble, as the retail front is exempt from certain requirements that the wholesale isn't — he gives he example of buying meat slices at major grocery stores from the deli, where you don't have to have an ingredient label on it.
"The challenge has always been that we process wholesale cuts of meat in the same place we also sell retail, but that's our strength, the retail store allows us to be in business," he says.
Still, he concedes his butchers didn't use the USDA stickers properly, and that it "was a simple mistake."
While he awaits reinstatement, RFD's unable to distribute to its clients, though Callicrate says they are able to come to the retail market to pick up orders there — and it remains open to the public as well.
"Our really good customers understand," he says, "but we could lose a huge part of our business."
This afternoon Callicrate issued the following statement:
All of the food items for sale in our store have been produced in the same way we have always produced them, using the same high quality, safe, chemical-free production methods.
Our store at 2901 N. El Paso is open and operating like it always has, while we to work to resolve this labeling issue with USDA.
There is a reference to sodium nitrite in the recall notice. I want to emphasize that we don’t add any artificial chemicals to anything we sell. Sodium nitrites occur naturally as part of the meat curing process, which means small amounts are normally present in smoked and cured products. Small amounts of nitrite are not unhealthy. In fact, they serve as a necessary preservative that actually kills harmful bacteria.
We deeply appreciate the ongoing loyalty and support of our many customers who share our commitment to a more local, personal, transparent and community-based food system.
As always, we thank you for your continued business.