Grease Theft Still Frustrating West Coast Renderers

By Tina Caparella

Although faced with other threats to their raw materials in the form of environmental contaminants and new competitors, Pacific Coast Renderers Association (PCRA) members continued to seek solutions to the challenge of grease theft throughout the west at the group’s annual convention held in Carmel Valley, CA, in late February.

Doug “Spike” Helmick, retired commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, stated that from a law enforcement perspective, if perpetrators feel they are not going to get caught or face penalties, they’ll continue to steal. He noted that one California police chief became aware of the inedible kitchen grease (IKG) theft problem when one of his officers was caught stealing grease, although most police chiefs and highway patrol officers have no knowledge of the problem. Helmick insisted that renderers need to make law enforcement, district attorneys, the restaurant and trucking industries, and the general public aware of the extent of the thefts.

“You don’t realize the power you [renderers] have and these folks need to know how they can help you,” he commented.

Michael Koewler, SRC Companies, encouraged renderers to report every theft by filing a police report that goes against a city/county’s crime record. He also urged PCRA members to perform outreach and awareness to law enforcement, allied industries (including the California Restaurant Association), and elected officials. Ken Kage, Darling International, Inc. reported that law enforcement isn’t taking grease theft seriously in Colorado. He was told by a street officer to report the thefts online and once enough are reported, the crimes are flagged to law enforcement at which time they’ll realize the severity of the situation.

Dr. Jan Hershenhouse, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), disclosed the heavy workload of the five staff members in the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety Branch, which not only includes livestock slaughter and processing but also licensing, regulating, and inspection of rendering facilities and enforcement of the state’s IKG program. She noted that increased fines of $5,000 per violation for grease theft should have more of an impact and California’s grease collection manifest system goes into effect in April, further increasing the branch’s tasks due to auditing from “cradle to grave.” CDFA recently denied a license to a major grease collection center and transporter due of the long, hard work on the theft case.

“Unfortunately, administration is a long process,” Hershenhouse stated, adding that the agency’s biggest impact is denial of registration as it makes collectors “dead in the water.” She also reiterated that renderers need to file police reports for each grease theft so the department can monitor problem areas and reach out to educate law enforcement in those cities. CDFA recently mailed letters and IKG theft posters to 58 county sheriff offices and has received some interest regarding educational programs.

Tom Cook, National Renderers Association, said grease theft has been one of the most frustrating issues he has had to deal with since joining the association as president in 1997. He added that there is a lot to learn from exchanging ideas with law enforcement.

Ross Hamilton, Darling International, discussed other threats – such as biological, chemical, and physical – to renderers’ raw materials. He stated that the industry’s commitment to biosecurity emerged about 10 years ago when the Animal Protein Producers Industry (APPI) developed the North American Rendering Industry Code of Practice, which is based on hazard analysis and critical control point-like principles. Hamilton pointed out that this “self-regulation” policy was put in place long before the United States (US) government required it of the rendering industry and will help assure that renderers are ready when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) releases its feed regulation under the Food Safety Modernization Act. He added that FDA has stated that renderers’ compliance with the feed rule is the highest among all industries regulated.

Renderers who participate in APPI’s Salmonella testing program are now also taking part in weekly Enterobacteriacea, or EBAC, testing for plant sanitation and monthly Clostridium perfringens testing to validate critical control points, according to Hamilton. He reported that in 2001, the United Kingdom government concluded that rendering is the preferred method of disposal to prevent the spread of disease after examining various disposal options following the country’s foot and mouth disease outbreak.

A new area of concern for some renderers is raw material contaminated with the chemicals dursban, diazinon, and endosulfan, which are used for fly control on ear tags and can affect raw material if tags are not removed prior to slaughter. Hamilton noted that the limit for these chemicals is 300 parts per billion (ppb) and 30 to 90 tags can exceed that level. Another chemical contaminant of concern is permethrin, also used for fly control, in spent hens, broilers, and feathers. Some levels have been as high as 90,000 ppb, with the tolerance being 150 ppb for poultry products. Hamilton stated that fat containing permethrin can be diverted to fuel, but other rendered products pose an environmental disposal issue because the chemical is toxic to bees and fish.

Tad Bell, California Grain and Feed Association (CGFA), said the spent hen and chemical contamination issue is about losing “input,” or material, while colleague Dennis Albiani warned of California Assembly Bill 323, driven by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle, that would require grocery stores, restaurants, and food processors to recycle food waste. Albiani insisted that waste management companies who want to recycle meat or meat products should fall under the CDFA rendering program and state monetary incentives should be broad-based so all recycling industries are included, although CGFA prefers no incentives so industry is market-driven and competitive.

Sharing the trials and tribulations in Canada was Ridley Bestwick, West Coast Reduction, Ltd. who told how an E. coli event basically took down a large Canadian food company, XL Foods. It all began September 4, 2012, when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) identified a positive E. coli O157:H7 sample in raw beef trimmings at XL Foods’ Brooks, AB, Canada plant. That same day, the US Department of Agriculture also found a positive sample during routine testing in the United States. All product was destroyed and since none had entered the marketplace, no recall was issued. The Brooks plant was reported to have had 46 CFIA inspectors onsite at the time.

Within 10 days, as CFIA investigated the source and cause of the contamination, two more positive samples were discovered in the United States after which CFIA removed XL Foods from the list of establishments eligible to export to the United States, but still did not issue a product recall. It was at this point, on September 15, that Bestwick said the media took the story viral, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The news was front page for three weeks. CFIA issued its first “health hazard alert” on September 16 recalling certain products, and continued to expand its alerts almost daily identifying more products. On September 27, CFIA suspended the license of XL Foods in Brooks. As of October 1, 2012, only eight illnesses had been linked to the largest beef recall in Canada’s history, said Bestwick.

One month after the incident began, XL Foods broke its silence and released its first press release, taking responsibility and apologizing to the Canadian public. Eventually, JBS Food Canada purchased XL Foods. In all, 45 million pounds of meat was recalled, one month’s worth of the plant’s slaughter, with some of the meat being treated by CFIA as hazardous waste and directed to landfills that accept prohibited specified risk materials.

“A brand was destroyed, a business destroyed,” Bestwick commented. He added that until XL Foods assumed responsibility, everyone played the “blame game,” from CFIA and the agency’s union to the labor union in the XL Foods plant and national political parties. Bestwick noted the lesson learned in this situation is that companies, including renderers, need to have well-managed disaster and media relations plans in place to restore public confidence, maintain relationships with regulators, and always follow, monitor, and update hazard analysis and critical control point plans.

PCRA also conducted business matters during its convention, including electing Andy Andreoli, Baker Commodities, as president and Ryan Koewler, Reno Rendering Co., as vice president of the association. PCRA’s next convention will be held February 29-March 1, 2014.

April 2013 RENDER | back