Police say be wary of rogue meat sellers

Posted June 30, 2010, at 8:27 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Police Department is warning midcoast residents to turn away unauthorized door-to-door meat salespeople this summer.

“Every year we get complaints of people selling meat out of the backs of their trucks,” said Rockland Deputy Chief Wally Tower. There have been no specific complaints yet this year, but Tower emphasized that “a lot of these people are convicted felons.”

In an effort to get a handle on the scope of the problem, police agencies across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have been sharing information on the issue, Tower said. In Massachusetts, there have been cases in which the meat sellers stole purses from houses, he said.

“That seems to be a common [mode of operation]. Once they are in the house, they steal,” he said, citing law enforcement information bulletins. Tower did not cite any recent theft cases in Maine related to meat sellers.

Regardless of that, Rockland police advise people to shut their doors to the salespeople and call police immediately.

“The trucks are marked,” Tower said. “The ones in Rockland are beat-up pickup trucks with placards on the side.” He said the trucks typically have freezers in the back.

The Better Business Bureau also advised against purchasing from unlicensed salesmen. According to the bureau, door-to-door meat salesmen tend to start making their rounds in the summer.

The bureau receives complaints against these sorts of companies — some in Maine — including health concerns about the meat.

“Consumers have described the products as being ‘inferior quality,’ ‘tainted,’ ‘not edible,’ ‘old and freezer burnt’ and ‘drowned in salt and preservatives.’ Some complainants have also claimed to have gotten sick from the meat and one complaint described it as tasting like chlorine,” stated a press release from the BBB.

Paula Fleming, vice president of communication and marketing for the local Better Business Bureau, said this issue plagues several states around the nation.

“When you’re dealing with anyone — especially someone coming door-to-door — you want to make sure you don’t fall pressure to sales tactics,” Fleming said. She said consumers should check to see if the state or local governments have approved the business to sell the meat. “You want to make sure you do the research up front,” she said.

Maine’s Department of Agriculture licenses some vendors to sell meats out of their trucks. The Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Henrietta Beaufait advised anyone purchasing meat from a door-to-door salesperson to ask to see the vendor’s license and then make sure it is current and the license plate number on the license matches the vendor’s car.

She said customers also should check the boxes of meat, which should be cold. Every box should be labeled with safe handling instructions, a net weight, the company name that cut the meat, and a USDA certification sticker with a number inside it.

Beaufait advised consumers always to keep the box the meat comes in so that if there is a recall the customer can trace the product.

Beaufait warned there have been cases of a licensed company selling meat that did not have USDA stickers on it, which could mean the meat is unsafe for consumption.

She said problems can arise when unlicensed people start selling meat.

“I have heard some people relaying stories where [someone] bought the meat and it was really not good meat and the dog wouldn’t eat it — and that would most likely be from temperature abuse,” she said. “They could be selling without the proper license, without the proper storage.”

The Department of Agriculture checks potential vendors’ ability to keep their meat products cold while on the road before issuing any licenses.

Despite the official warnings, at least one local man had no complaints about his experience with a door-to-door vendor.

Rockland resident Andrew Williams said a meat salesman approached him about six months ago. The salesman got out of his white pickup truck, which had a freezer in the back, and offered him a box of T-bone steaks and Angus beef burgers for about $56.

“It was the best meat I’ve had in a long time. It was weird, it was better meat than I get at any grocery store,” Williams said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I don’t know where the meat came from, but I didn’t get sick after eating it.”

Williams described the salesperson as a “shifty guy” who didn’t offer his name, nor did he give Williams a receipt. Nonetheless, he bought the meat, which he said was a good deal.

People with questions about purchasing meat can call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854. Rockland police ask anyone who encounters one of these salespeople to call the department immediately at 594-0316.

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