FOX23 Investigation: Dates on meat removed at local market

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Reported by: Janna Clark
Updated: 11/08/2012 9:31 am Published: 11/07/2012 9:16 pm

When FOX23's Janna Clark opened a package of bacon from a local Food Pyramid, she looked at the three packages of bacon inside and the manufacturer's dates were gone.

That's exactly what a former store employee said FOX23 would find.

FOX23 started another investigation after first reporting last February that the Tulsa Food Pyramid store at 51st and Memorial was re-labeling meat.

At the time, Janna peeled back the sell-by stickers and saw the ones underneath had an older date. Food Pyramid Vice President Larry Hayward said doing that went against store policy and assured FOX23 it wouldn't happen again.

But not long after, former store employee Farris Andrews called FOX23.

"They were doing a lot of shady things," Farris said.

Farris said when the first story aired, he was working at the store in the meat department. He said he knew his store finally got caught.

"You all came in, and they cracked down on a lot of stuff. But two or three weeks later, it went back to normal," Farris said.

He said managers told employees not to re-label old meat and throw it away. He said one employee even got fired. But Farris says that employee wasn't the problem.

"Scapegoat," Farris said.

Farris claims it was the meat market manager who changed expiration dates and told his employees to do it too.

"Once they got mad at me because they asked me to take dates off with alcohol, and I told them I don't do that stuff," he said.

Farris says he's worked in grocery store meat departments for more than two decades. He says most do the right thing.

"Until I worked at this store at Food Pyramid, I never saw a market manager do the things he did," Farris said.

Farris took video and photos to prove it.

In one photo, you can clearly see the stamped date on the top product - a package of pork loin. In the same photo you see another package - the same product. But the stamp is gone, and there's a store sticker in its place.

Farris recorded video of of carts full of expired food he pulled off the shelves. 

On May 8, he got video of lunch meat that was almost a month out of date and another package of lunch meat that was six weeks out of date.

"We'd put it in the meat cooler, and he said he'd deal with it later... He had an office, he'd take everything in the office, lock the door and do it behind closed doors... Once he forgot to lock the door, and I walked in on him. He was using alcohol to take dates off stuff," Farris said. "He takes dates off stuff and puts it back in the case."

FOX23 went to check it out. We bought a package of bacon that had been re-packaged into a three-pack.

When Janna opened the package, the manufacturer's dates were gone. She even tested the method on another package of bacon - to see if a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol on it really takes off the date. It only took a few seconds, and the dates were gone.

"It's deceptive... when you go in there and expect to buy fresh meat. It's not fresh when it's 30 days old," Farris said. "Thats not right, right?"

The State Department of Agriculture oversees how grocery stores handle meat. Director of the Food Safety Division Stan Stromberg says once the dates are stamped on by a manufacturer, grocery stores aren't allowed to remove them or change them.

FOX23 told him what we found.

"I can't remember a time when we've actually had a situation like that," Stromberg said.

Stromberg said he would start an investigation.

"The labels have to be truthful and cannot be misleading. Once you change the information, then the label's no longer truthful, and it is misleading," Stromberg said.

So, what's the incentive? Why would a market manager go to so much trouble to change dates to try to sell meat? Farris says it's just a matter of money.

"It depends on your gross profit. Every three months you get a good profit, you get a good bonus," Farris said.

Store Director Troy Beaird with Food Pyramid agreed to meet FOX23 at the store, so FOX23 could show him what we found.

Janna first showed him a package of chicken and asked if employees re-package meat and re-label fresh meat.

"Is it possible that some of these things have been re-wrapped and re-labeled?" Janna asked.

"Without me standing right there next to him, there wouldn't be any way I could tell you one way or another," Beaird said.

"But it's against policy?" Janna asked.

"Yes, absolutely," Beaird said.

Then Janna showed Beaird the bacon FOX23 bought that came in a three-pack.

"I can't find any date," Beaird said.

"So what's your response to this?" Janna asked.

"That - I couldn't answer. I'm not sure why that's not on there," Beaird said.

"Is it possible one of your employees did this?" Janna asked.

"I would say it would not be directed by our company to do that," Beaird said.

Then Janna showed him how easy it is to remove manufacturer's dates with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol.

"It's pretty easy," Beaird said. "I can tell you our company is not giving that direction. Being an associate with the company five years, I've never received direction from our company telling us to do this kind of thing."

After the interview, the company's Vice President told FOX23 that Food Pyramid managers can get bonuses, but at this store managers haven't qualified for a bonus in the past five years.

But in light of what FOX23 found, Food Pyramid says it will start its own investigation.

"I can assure you changing labels and changing packaging is not where we'd want to go," Beaird said. "That's not the company's goal. The goal is to be fresh and wholesome."

A Department of Agriculture representative says Food Pyramid will likely get a warning for this.

But he said his investigators will go back and continue to check. He says if it happens again the store will be fined up to 10-thousand dollars every time they find the store has tampered with meat labels.

As for the whistle-blower, Farris, he was fired from the store back in May for an unrelated matter.

If you have a complaint about a store's meat, you can call the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture at (405)522-6119.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

okiegirl1 - 11/8/2012 10:15 AM
0 Votes
After being a customer at food pyramid for 15 years and NUMEROUS times buying meat that is rancid and nasty when we get it home, I have to wonder about their handling of meat. Most of the items we've bought and thrown away are well within the use by date and look fresh but the smell will knock you down when you open it. It's a shame as we live within walking distance of the 51st and Harvard store but we drive to Reasors or Neighborhood Market to spend our money on food we can eat.

cattleokie - 11/8/2012 8:02 AM
0 Votes
That is why I produce my on meat. Store bought meat is naaaasty. Everyone @ that store should be fired on the spot. That is also why we have ecoli in our meat produced in the United States.
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