Gila County health officials are warning Rim country consumers to be wary of door-to-door salespeople who are selling meat at cut-rate prices from the backs of their trucks.
"Many of them are selling meat that is not of the quality they say it is, and there is a potentially serious problem with the temperatures at which their meat is stored," Gila County health inspector Svanna Jones said.
Only two companies are licensed for mobile meat sales in the Payson area: Meat & Fish Fellas and Schwan's, both of which operate out of the Valley. All others are selling meat without permits, Jones said.
"Meat & Fish Fellas and Schwan's both have refrigerated trucks, they're electrical, they're generated," Jones said. "The ones to really beware of are the open trucks with the cooler or the freezer with dry ice.
"Also, you don't know where the meat has come from or who processed it," she said. "You don't know the history of how many times it's been thawed and refrozen, and you definitely don't know the quality. People should not bother with them."
Jones said she's received reports that many of the mobile salespeople trying to sell meat in the area are using high-pressure sales tactics.
In some cases, she said, the salesmen tell prospective buyers that steaks and other cuts of meat were packaged for a local restaurant that didn't need the order or couldn't pay for it. The salesmen then say they're selling the meat door-to-door for a "discount" so they don't have to return it to the warehouse.
Other popular sales pitches include: "My truck has broken down, and I've got to sell this meat now," and, "I just made a delivery, and I have some extra meat."
"They all use that (last) line," Jones said. "As soon as people hear it, they should beware."
Meat peddlers also often say the meat is restaurant quality, Jones said, but that doesn't mean the meat is USDA Prime or USDA Choice, the higher grades for quality given by the federal government. While "restaurant quality" meat is inspected at the packing plant for wholesomeness by the USDA and may be used by some restaurants, the term itself is no assurance of quality, she said.
Sellers also may be reluctant to give the price per pound of meat. When consumers don't know the price per pound, Jones said, it's difficult to compare the cost with meat sold locally in grocery stores.
Rim country residents who are approached by suspect mobile meat peddlers can call the Gila County Health Department at 474-1210 or the United States Dairy Association at (602) 542-6399 to check on the company or register a complaint. Consumers should try to obtain the name and phone number of the company, Jones said, so the company can be contacted and identified.
The USDA Web site (www. fsis.usda.gov) suggests the following tips if you're considering the purchase of meat products from a door-to-door salesperson:
Check the dealer. Ask for literature and take plenty of time to read it.
Ask for a brochure. Reputable companies will have a local sales office with a published price list that includes the address and phone number of the company.
Check for grading information on the products. Companies can have the meat and poultry they sell graded by USDA. If a meat or poultry product is graded by USDA, there must be a USDA grade shield or mark on the carcass, package or product label. If a product is labeled with a term such as "restaurant quality," ask the company which USDA grade is comparable.
Understand the cuts. Know which cut of meat or poultry you are buying, and check the label for proper identification of the cut of meat.
Read the label on the package or carton before you buy. Insist on having the establishment number where the meat or poultry was inspected. USDA and state inspected products are required to give information about the product on the label.
On raw products the species, the cut, the net weight, the ingredients statement and the safe handling statement are required. No ingredient may be added to fresh meat or poultry unless the ingredient is listed on the label. Some companies may offer less tender cuts, or lower grades of meat or poultry for lower prices because the product has been tenderized with a marinade or flavoring agent.
Beware of any dealer who wants you to purchase bulk quantities of meat and poultry that are not properly labeled. Always ask the dealer to leave the box or labeling information if individual products are not labeled.
Ask to see a retail permit. In Arizona, salespeople are required to have a state license or permit to sell products door-to-door. Ask to see the salesperson's license to sell.
Never buy meat or poultry products that are carried in an unrefrigerated truck or car trunk. The product may be unsafe because bacteria that cause illness multiply rapidly above 40 degrees.
If you have a complaint about the company, try to resolve your dispute with the seller first. Make sure you act quickly. Send a letter of complaint. A letter is important because it puts your complaint on record and lets the company know you are serious about pursuing the dispute. Be sure you keep a copy for your records. In general, beware of claims that are too good to be true. They usually are.