Much of the beef from Rancho Feeding Corp., the Petaluma slaughterhouse that had to recall all the meat it produced last year, ended up in hamburgers sold by fast food giant Jack in the Box, according to a letter from the plant's manager to the federal government.
The beef also ended up in the products of other fast food chains. Those companies, as well as Jack in the Box, have recalled the hamburger patties, a top industry consultant said on Tuesday.
Also, the company that supplied the food chains has recalled the product, though it is all but certain it has been consumed, said the consultant, Dave Theno.
"At this stage, I believe they are all completed," Theno, a former executive with Jack in the Box, said of the fast food chains' recall actions.
In the Oct. 28, 2013, letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service, Rancho Feeding manager Scott Parks criticized as unfounded a USDA inspector's report that a cow was slaughtered inhumanely.
The Press Democrat obtained the letter from a source who asked to remain anonymous because the case is being investigated by the USDA and the U.S. Attorney General. In it, Parks said Rancho would lose customers if it was thought to be treating animals incorrectly.
His main concern was with Jack in the Box.
"The majority of our carcasses end up at Jack in the Box," Parks wrote to the USDA's Alameda office, "and if they stop taking our product we will be out of business."
Former Rancho co-owner Robert Singleton said Tuesday that he doubted Parks had actually written such a statement regarding the fast-food company, saying, "He wouldn't know."
Jack in the Box officials did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Rancho was forced in February to recall 8.7 million pounds of beef and veal produced in 2013 and sold throughout the United States and Canada. The USDA said it had been produced without being fully inspected.
No illnesses have been reported, but thousands of retailers who bought Rancho meat, from Safeway to Wal-Mart, have had to recall products ranging from Hot Pocket sandwiches to beef jerky from Sonoma-based Krave Pure Foods.
Also, a number of North Bay custom ranchers have had their beef locked down — unable to sell or retrieve it — even though, they say, the health of their cattle has not been questioned and they were processed separately from the plant's dairy cows.
The USDA and the U.S. Attorney General's Office — as well as Rancho's owners — have been tight-lipped about what suspected wrongdoings are being investigated. Sources with knowledge of the investigation have said one issue is that the slaughterhouse was processing cows with cancer. That is illegal.
Rancho ceased operations in February and is in the process of being sold to a Marin rancher.
Parks, in the seven-page letter that is a catalogue of complaints about the USDA inspector, did not say how much of the slaughterhouse's beef was sold to Jack in the Box, which has 2,250 restaurants and franchises in 21 states, according to its website.
Theno said the meat represented "a substantial amount of product" for Jack in the Box.
About 40 percent of a typical fast-food hamburger patty consists of fat and fat trimmings. The remainder is the type of lean beef that Rancho produced from dairy cows it purchased, said Theno, who was senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack in the Box. The company hired him after a 1993 scandal in which its burgers were blamed for a massive food illness outbreak in which four children died.