Meat Plant Owner and HACCP Manager Plead Guilty to Falsifying E. coli Test Results
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut has announced that Memet Beqiri, 32, owner and general manager of New England Meat Packing, LLC, and Debbie Smith, 60, the company’s former Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) coordinator/quality control officer, both pleaded guilty to falsifying numerous Escherichia coli test results.
New England Meat Packing is a federally inspected business that slaughters, processes, sells, and transports meat and meat food products for human consumption. The business had a HACCP plan in place that was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That plan required the business to perform one generic E. coli carcass swab for every 300 animals slaughtered. The plan also required periodic collection of ground beef samples for the purpose of E. coli testing.
Between November 2016 and September 2017, Smith submitted and Beqiri approved 36 documents related to 52 separate carcass swabs and ground beef samples that were logged in the company’s Lab Sample Report binder, which is reviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS). The documents, which stated that all 52 carcass swabs and samples tested negative for E. coli, were printed on the letterhead of a certified testing laboratory and appeared to be signed by the laboratory director.
In reality, none of the 52 carcass swabs or samples had been submitted or tested by the identified laboratory, or any other laboratory. The 36 documents were fraudulently prepared using laboratory letterhead obtained from a previous testing that New England Meat Packing had conducted with that lab.
During the investigation, Beqiri told USDA FSIS that samples were not collected and the documents were forged because “he did not correlate the potential impact on food safety with his sampling program and wanted to create the appearance that he was compliant with all USDA HACCP testing requirements.”
None of New England Meat Packing’s meat products are known to have caused any illnesses.
A U.S. Attorney commented that Beqiri also said that he ignored regulations because he thought USDA’s meat testing requirements were an inconvenience and a nuisance. That U.S. Attorney said that “such reckless conduct seriously endangers public safety and will be prosecuted.”
FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg also commented on the case, saying that USDA “will not tolerate blatant disregard for food safety laws.”
Smith pleaded guilty to one count of making and using a false document, a charge that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 5 years.
Beqiri’s guilty plea to one count of making and using a false document and aiding and abetting carries a maximum prison term of 5 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-November.