The rolling recall of 8.7 million pounds of meat that culminated with the closure of Rancho Feeding Corporation of Petaluma in March ended with very little explanation of what went wrong and how it happened.
Last week, CNN illuminated a portion of the story of how the company hid cancerous cow parts while an inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) carried on an illicit affair with an assistant plant manager. The massive recall began in early February after the USDA targeted 41,683 pounds of meat that had been produced and shipped to California stores in January. By March, a year's worth of meat, all of its meat, was recalled and the plant was closed.
There was no official explanation at first beyond talk of “adulterated” meat. Shortly thereafter, word leaked out that some of the meat came from cows with eye cancer. Employees reportedly cut off heads and sliced off meat to avoid detection.
CNN said an email in December from a Rancho assistant plant manager to the USDA indicated this unfolded while one of its inspectors, Lynette Thompson, and an unnamed plant foreman were in an intimate relationship that was often consummated onsite.
The assistant manager emailed that the foreman fessed up and graphically detailed the couple's exchange of intimacies and photos. The email included attachments of the couple's lustful emails to each other.
In February, Tara Smith, owner of Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma, expressed incredulity that she had lost about $8,000 on a recall that shouldn't have happened since there was no evidence bad meat had left the plant. “The USDA guy practically lives there,” Smith said. “He has to be there whenever processing is going on. If there was a sick cow that showed up, they would turn it away.”
A lot of ranchers lost a lot more money than Smith when the government deemed all meat in the plant unfit. Rancho Feed, which was the last USDA-certified beef processing plant in the Bay Area, has been sold to a San Francisco-based boutique meat company, Marin Sun Farms, and overhauled. But many of the old clients were forced to truck their animals to locations farther away for processing.
Meat was recalled from more than 5,800 retailers in 45 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico. Nobody has been reported sickened, except for a few squeamish readers. An investigation led by the U.S. Attorneys Office in San Francisco is ongoing.