Calif.’s recall list sparks uproar as Congress weighs release of sellers’ IDs in food scares

Calif.’s recall list sparks uproar as Congress weighs release of sellers’ IDs in food scares

SACRAMENTO CALIF. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

That’s why he was shocked when a regular customer came in and ordered only a salad. “You’re on the list,” the customer told Learakos. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

The “list” referred to an online posting by California’s Department of Public Health that revealed the identities of thousands of restaurants and other retailers that may have purchased some of the 143 million pounds of beef that Westland/Hallmark recalled. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

The meat was ordered seized after federal officials confirmed there was evidence that the slaughterhouse had processed for human consumption nonambulatory “downer” cattle, in violation of rules aimed at protecting against the potential transmission of mad cow disease to humans. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits the public disclosure of the names of retailers that may have sold—or may still be selling—recalled products, under the premise that distributors’ client lists are proprietary. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

But that soon may change. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

In light of the massive recall, federal lawmakers now are pushing for quick approval of a proposed rule change that would force the USDA to reveal where possibly tainted products are sold, including restaurants. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

In California, such disclosureis allowed because of a consumer protection law adopted last year that pertains to retail outlets within the state. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

California’s online identification of possible retail sources of suspect Westland/Hallmark meat appeared to be the first—and certainly was the largest—such disclosure involving recalled food products since the law went into effect last July. The data on the incrementally updated list came from distributors. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

At press time, the still-evolving list included about 7,500 retailers, an apparent majority of which were restaurants. They ranged from the high-end Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills to Taco Bell units across California. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Federal officials estimate that as many as 10,000 retail establishments nationwide may have purchased meat that was recalled. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Jack in the Box [3], In-N-Out Burger [4] and Taco Bell [5] acknowledged they had purchased the product and that the meat had been removed from their systems. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Others raised questions about the accuracy of California’s list. Wretaurants were removed from the listing after operators worked with local health officials to prove they had never received the recalled product. The restaurant operators said they were trying to be de-listed after being horrified to find their brands linked publicly to the recalled meat—especially after distributors gave them an “all clear.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

The USDA has acknowledged that most of the product has probably already been consumed and that it posed little risk. The Class II recall indicates only a remote possibility of adverse health effects. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Still, the threat to Learakos’ Katella Grill was clear and immediate. After the list became public, the family restaurant’s largest catering client threatened to take its business elsewhere. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“I think everyone understands that, with this recall, there probably wasn’t a public-safety risk, but people didn’t want to have any association with those videos, and I understand that,” said Learakos, referring to the undercover video released by the nonprofit Humane Society of the United States showing cruel methods being used by Westland/Hallmark workers to force downer cattle to slaughter. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Learakos learned that a former distributor, American Cos., had given the restaurant’s name as part of its client list, even though Katella Grill had not purchased anything from the company since 2003, long before the recall period. Calls to American Cos. were not returned. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

With letters in hand from current distributors who assured Learakos that his restaurant had not received any recalled product, he worked with local health officials to comb through the restaurant’s records and confirm the error. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Katella Grill was the first restaurant to be dropped from the list. But communicating that to customers hasn’t been easy. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“We’re still trying to un-ring the bell,” Learakos said. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Scott Diehl, general manager of P.H. Woods Bar-B-Que & Brewery in Moreno Valley, learned his restaurant was on the list from a newspaper reporter. The restaurant also was able to have its name removed from the list. Diehl explained that P.H. Woods had purchased a small sample of meat from American Cos. in 2001, long before the recall period, but never again. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“The thing that upsets me is that whatever list was given to the USDA, and whatever the state received, I felt that somebody dropped the ball,” Diehl said. “They should have followed up to see if the list was accurate. When you give it out to the press, it’s hard to retract it. I felt like I was railroaded and I had no power over it.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Officials at Perkins-Marie Callender’s Inc. [6], based in Memphis, Tenn., do not know why one unit of Marie Callender’s, in Downey, Calif., is on the recall list. Vivian Brooks, the company’s public affairs officer, said it has “triple-checked” with distributors and has no reason to believe any of the recalled meat was purchased by that or any other Marie Callender’s location. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“We believe it’s wrong,” Brooks said. “As it stands, we are perplexed, we’re investigating and we will eventually debate why we are on that list.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Debbie Bohnett, senior vice president for Mastro’s Restaurants, based in Woodland Hills, Calif., said she also didn’t know why some of the company’s high-end steakhouses are listed. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“I didn’t even know the list existed,” she said. “You would think they’d give us some notification.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Carl Schuster, chief executive of Wolfgang Puck Catering, also was surprised to learn of the Los Angeles-based company’s inclusion on the list, after being told by distributors that the caterer had purchased no recalled meat. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Wolfgang Puck’s companies use an internal “red alert” system designed to notify executives about any recall, even from suppliers they don’t use, so products can be pulled immediately if necessary, he said. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“For our customers’ safety, we have no problem with producing a list so the public can be notified,” Schuster said. “The problem is, is the list accurate?” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Matt Stein, chief seafood officer for King’s Seafood Co. [7], the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based operator of the King’s Fish House [8] chain and several other restaurant concepts, was not surprised that his units were on the list. Stein had been warned that a purveyor had bought some filets from Westland/Hallmark in the past, and a very small amount of the trim from those filets might have been used in ground beef purchased by the seafood chain. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

King’s hadn’t bought anything from the purveyor since December, said Stein, who expressed certainty that the meat was no longer in the company’s restaurants. Consumers haven’t asked about the listing, he added. “These agencies have a responsibility to respond, but they haven’t reacted with the right tools,” Stein said. “They’re out there swinging a sledgehammer around.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Earl Goldberg, owner and president of the distribution firm Goldberg and Solovy Foods Inc., based in Vernon, Calif., contends that the system has worked well in the case of Westland/Hallmark. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“My mother’s name is on that list because she has bought some product from me, as well as some employees,” Goldberg said. “If there was something really bad, something that made people sick, this shows that the system works.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

However, consumers don’t understand the recall system, and simply releasing the names of retailers that might have sold recalled product can easily be “sensationalized,” he contended. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“A certain amount of disclosure is necessary,” Goldberg said. “But the public doesn’t understand the details. They see a restaurant name and the word ‘recall’ and they’re not going to eat there again.” —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

Proponents of public disclosure contend that the identification of implicated retailers will encourage them to comply with recalls, which are voluntary. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

In Los Angeles County, where about 2,600 foodservice operators were named on the state’s list as of Feb. 25, health officials spot-checked more than 180 facilities and found nine locations where recalled product had not yet been removed. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

“Just because there’s a recall doesn’t mean everyone is going to adhere to it,” said Terrance Powell, director of special operations and planning for the county’s Department of Environmental Health. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.

The Westland/Hallmark recall has sparked a national debate about lax oversight by federal food safety agencies, causing plans for old safeguards to be revived. Still, a two-year-old USDA proposal to allow the naming of implicated retailers during recalls had, as of mid-March, not yet been sent for final approval to the White House Office of Management and Budget. —In the wake of last month’s largest-ever beef recall, restaurateur Mike Learakos was confident that his Katella Grill in Orange, Calif., had never purchased what federal officials were describing as “adulterated” meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif.