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.