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Was ‘Black Bear’ Meat Switched to Lesser Cuts?

On the surface, Homer Glen, IL would appear to be one of those communities where lots of people would claim to know their game meats.  After all, Homer Glen has been called a perennial conservative stronghold. Illinois Tea Party events are held in its Homer Megaplex.  

Yet while many an NRA member makes Homer Glen home, it has taken federal food safety inspectors to uncover a possible incident of game meat mislabeling. At the 97-year-old Czimer Foods Inc., the game meat being sold as Black Bear Steaks is allegedly Brown Bear; and Black Bear Burgers are reportedly made from elk and red deer meat.

Founded by Hungarian immigrant John Czimer as a small butcher shop, Czimer Foods Inc. is one of the Chicago area’s largest game meat distributors.

But evidence of a game-meat shuffle was revealed in a Feb. 4 warning letter sent to Czimer Foods by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Based on samples it collected, FDA said both the Black Bear Burgers and Black Bear Steaks had a “valuable constituent” omitted and another ingredient substituted.

“Specifically, your Black Bear Burger product was found to contain Elk/Red Deer (Cervus sp.) rather than Black Bear (Ursus americanus), and your Black Bear Steak product was found to contain Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) rather than Black Bear,” the FDA warning letter said.

That means both products are misbranded under federal law.

The product substitutions Czimer’s is accused of making would affect price as much as taste. Center-cut Black Bear steaks go for $18.95 per pound, according to Czimer’s published prices.

It does not list a price for Brown Bear steaks, but Black Bear Burgers fetch $9.95 a pound while Elk Burgers go for $6.95 a pound or $3 less.

Czimer’s has been in the wild game business since the 1930s, and its current offerings for large game include everything from African Lion Steaks ($19.95 per pound) to Yak Steaks (for $24.95 per pound).

During its inspection, FDA found more to be concerned about than switching out more expensive cuts of game with less. FDA cited the following as significant violations:

  • Hygienic standards involving food, food contact surfaces, and food packaging materials were not being followed. An employee was not using gloves when handling ready-to-eat cheese.

  • No thermal process was used for smoking exotic meat such as slim jims and meat jerky products, and there was no monitoring of process times or smoking temperatures to control the potential growth of microorganisms.  

  • There was no monitoring of pH or water activity of refrigerated, smoked vacuum packed exotic meat such as slims Jims and jerky products. Time and temperature monitoring is necessary to properly smoke these products and minimize the growth of microorganisms.

  • The facility was not using the required cleaning compounds and sanitizing agents.  The sanitizer being used was not being mixed to the appropriate concentration.

  • Equipment and utensils were not be cleaned properly, leaving dried particles of meat scraps on the blade, handle, and grooves of a processing table saw.

Chicago’s FDA district asked the Homer Glen game meat company to respond within 15 working days.

© Food Safety News
  • molly ringwald

    An update on this would be wonderful…I dont understand why Czimer is allowed to still run a butcher shop after being in prison a few years back for the SAME THING. Shut this dirty business down!!!!

  • dangermaus

    One, the game meats sold here are likely a lot safer than anything you’d have if you shot it yourself, field-dressed it and brought it home in your un-refrigerated car.
    Two, let’s put this in perspective… This isn’t McDonald’s. A place like Czimer’s is only for the adventurous eater, so Molly, please don’t go there (just curious… would you ever go to a place like that to buy meat? For some reason, I doubt it).
    Three, I went there recently and got some great advice about home sausage making, and clearly the guy has a passion for what he’s doing. I actually have some of their steaks in my freezer, and I’d bet you dollars to navy beans that it’s safer than a random package of ground beef you could find at a conventional supermarket.
    If they’re mislabeling their products, though, that’s really disappointing. I’ve heard enough stories about questionable inspectors and inspections, though, that I don’t take their word on this without a grain of salt. For example, I wonder how often the inspector and lab techs who did this report actually DO elk/bear/etc DNA tests on food…

  • molly ringwald

    Wow. Dangermaus you dont seem to get the point. First off, Czimer will NEVER reveal his sources of many meats sold at his shop. I would pay you top dollar if you went into his exotic meat store and asked where his lion meat comes from and you got a substantial answer (uhh from a lion farm? Nope. They do not exist or you would get an address of said “farm”). The man is a greasy, dont ask, dont tell, kind of business man, which in my opinion is not good or safe practice when it comes to meats. Therefore, you cannot say that his meats are more safe than shooting an animal yourself. If you go hunting, my dear friend, you know the animal you are killing and slaughtering yourself is WILD and not mistreated, caged and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones…when you buy meat at Czimers, because of his shady practices and unwillingness to speak openly about his meat sources, you havent a clue where your next meal of meats are coming from. (Most likely they were caged and treated with a delightful cocktail of those hormones and antibiotics – otherwise Czimer would be much more open with his sources of these exotic animals you put on your plate) Congratulations on him teaching you to handle your sausage also. I’m sure anyone could tell you how to do that. Just because he knows how to make a sausage doesnt mean his business practices are legit.