A Maine slaughterhouse is recalling more than 25,000 pounds of beef dating to last November for failure to remove tissues that could potentially allow transmission of mad cow disease.
The Maine Department of Agriculture announced Friday that Bubier Meats of Greene has issued a voluntary recall of 25,192 pounds of beef because the dorsal root ganglia may not have been completely removed. The state discovered the problem, which it said posed a low health risk, during a review of company slaughter logs.
Federal regulations require removal of the tissue in cattle 30 months of age and older because it can contain bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which can cause the fatal brain disease in humans who eat tainted beef.
Bubier Meats said carcasses were distributed to Rosemont Market locations in Portland and Yarmouth, and Maine Meat in Kittery, between November 2013 and August 2014.
All products would have been processed into smaller cuts with no identifying consumer packaging.
Neither the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection program nor Bubier Meats has received reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products, the state said.
Butchers at both retailers say that all the meat sold at their stores was safe because the cows were less than 30 months old and because the butchers had removed the backbone, including the dorsal root ganglia, a cluster of nerve cells that carry sensory signals into the spinal cord.
“This is a paperwork fiasco,” said Evan Mills, the butcher for Rosemont. “At no point were the customers in danger. All the animals we get are under 30 months old.”
Jarrod Spangler, who owns Maine Meat, said an inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture had given approval to Bubier Meats to sell meat carcasses that contained backbones.
However, when the inspector went on vacation, a different inspector concluded that the slaughterhouse did not have the proper documents for processing such meat.
“In all honesty, it was the fault of the Maine Department of Agriculture, and that failure is causing us to have to deal with this,” Spangler said. “This is a ridiculous situation.”
The meat in question was raised at the Caldwell Family Farm in Turner.
Dee Caldwell, whose family raised the cows, posted on the Maine Meat website Friday to assure consumers that her cattle had never eaten animal byproducts, which is how bovine spongiform encephalopathy is transmitted.
“The only way for a beef animal to have BSE is to have a diet containing animal by-products, this has NOT happened,” Caldwell wrote. “I cannot stress enough that there is no at risk material in any of these stores.”
Rosemont Market and Maine Meat will continue to carry the meat from the farm, but it will be processed at a slaughterhouse approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Spangler said Maine Meat currently has no meat from Bubier and has not sold any for a week.
Mills, the butcher for Rosemont Market, said the store will work with a new slaughterhouse, but in the meantime will continue to sell the meat it already has obtained from Bubier. He said the meat is safe and he has not received any notice from the state advising him not to sell it.
A person who answered the phone at Bubier Meats declined to comment. Emails and calls to John Bott, the spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, were not returned Friday night.
The Maine Department of Agriculture advises consumers with questions to call Tobie Bubier at Bubier Meats at 946-5015. A woman who answered the phone when a reporter called Friday afternoon hung up.
The federal Food Safety and Inspection Service has a virtual representative for fielding calls 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a meat and poultry hotline available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-888-MPHOTLINE.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is extremely rare, and has been found in only four cows in the United States, the last in 2012, according to the USDA. The disease cannot be transmitted in cow’s milk.
Officials are unsure of the cause of BSE and there’s no treatment or vaccine for it. The USDA says “the single most important food safety measure is to avoid human consumption” of tainted meat.