Officials investigate meat seller
MINNEAPOLIS -- The state's top meat inspector has asked the attorney general to determine whether a company has violated a previous settlement that required its owner and his agents to end deceptive practices.
Kevin Elfering became suspicious when a pair of salesman from Farmers Pride Meat Co. knocked on his door, trying to sell him choice meat from Herefords raised on corn and grain in Nebraska. Elfering said the men lacked the state license required to sell meat door-to-door and made meaningless claims, such as the meat was "triple-trimmed."
This was just before an E. coli outbreak forced the recall of some of the company's frozen steaks.
The attorney general's office is seeking more information to determine whether the settlement has been violated and whether laws prohibiting deceptive sales pitches have been broken, said Prentiss Cox, manager of the office's consumer division.
The 1999 settlement bans owner Ben Chouinard or companies he's involved with from making false claims about meat. The settlement document said state officials determined that Chouinard's dealers had falsely told consumers that meat left over from deliveries was available at hefty discounts. The company also dodged customers seeking refunds, according to the document.
Chouinard didn't admit to wrongdoing as part of the 1999 settlement. He said recently that he remains in compliance with that pact and argued that he is now a "consultant" to Farmers Pride, with ownership transferred to his wife, Sharon.
State officials have confirmed a link between vacuum-packed frozen beef products sold by the company and an outbreak of E. coli, a potentially deadly bacterium, between May 27 and June 18.
Officials said last week that five Minnesotans who ate meat from Farmers Pride developed E. coli infections.
Leslie Sandberg, spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike Hatch, said consumers should be cautious about door-to-door vendors.
"Consumers should be very skeptical of people saying, 'Hey, you see that truck? I've got a bunch of meat in there and I want to sell it,' " she said.