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Bureau of Prisons Mistakenly Served Meat Intended as Pet Food

Bureau of Prisons Mistakenly Served Meat Intended as Pet Food

by Derek Gilna

A Texas meat manufacturer has pledged to adopt new procedures to ensure compliance with food safety laws and paid almost $400,000 to resolve a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigation into mislabeled meat that was intended for pet food but instead was sold to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and served to prisoners.

The U.S. Department of Justice was quick to point out in an August 17, 2012 press release that there was “no evidence that anyone who consumed any of the ... product suffered any ill effects.”

According to the Justice Department, John Soules Foods, Inc. of Tyler, Texas entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“This settlement agreement upholds the government’s commitment to food safety while also recognizing that John Soules Foods, Inc. is a good corporate citizen with a long record of regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction,” said U.S. Attorney John Bales.

Under the agreement, the company will pay $392,000 to the federal government to resolve the USDA’s three-year investigation, and in return John Soules Foods will not be subject to criminal, civil or administrative action. The firm also agreed to adopt new procedures to ensure that it follows the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act, and will conduct a review of its existing procedures, records and policies to ensure continuing compliance.

John Soules Foods did not admit civil or criminal wrongdoing and “has cooperated and has demonstrated a desire to continue to cooperate in investigating any allegations that any of their products may have been received in an adulterated state or without the appropriate labeling,” the settlement stated.

The company’s website says it is the leading fajita meat processing company in the United States; it makes meat products for food service distributors, chain restaurants and supermarkets.

The federal investigation was initiated following allegations that in late 2006 and early 2007, John Soules Foods altered or mislabeled a raw product known as “beef trimmings” before selling it to some wholesale buyers, according to the Justice Department.

USDA investigators found evidence that the company “experienced problems getting some of their beef trimmings product to freeze properly.” As a result, John Soules Foods sold the product to an independent meat broker who agreed to resell it as pet food.

John Soules Foods did not change the labeling on the boxes to indicate that it was intended as pet food, with the understanding that the beef trimmings would be sold for that purpose. But investigators said the independent broker “violated the agreement and sold the boxes of pet food beef trimmings to another meat broker for human consumption.”

Some of the beef trimmings were then resold to the Bureau of Prisons and served to prisoners, the Justice Department stated.

Although the BOP claims that its food meets all federal standards, prisoners have long suspected otherwise. Periodic complaints arise about meals causing prisoners to become sick, such as a 2011 outbreak of salmonella that occurred at USP Canaan in Pennsylvania that led to hundreds of lawsuits. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.38].

According to a November 7, 2013 news report, the BOP paid over $700,000 to settle 446 of 513 lawsuits filed by prisoners related to salmonella poisoning at USP Caanan. The outbreak, caused by chicken that had not been properly refrigerated, resulted in prisoners experiencing headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and chills.

In 2011 and 2012, some BOP facilities attempted to use meat trimmings packed into plastic sleeves even though prisoners complained about the smell and taste; the quality of the meat was so poor that it could not be formed into meatloaf or hamburgers.

That followed incidents in 2010 in some BOP prisons where cubed turkey was passed off as chicken. Prisoners complained that the meat’s rubbery texture and taste made it unpalatable. It was eventually discontinued after prisoners filed complaints noting that the item was not on the BOP’s national menu.

Following the incident involving the John Soules Foods beef trimmings intended for use as pet food, there was no indication whether the BOP will revise its purchasing policies to ensure that food served to prisoners meets minimum standards of quality.



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