Criminal convictions topped enforcement actions by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service during the first quarter of 2014. A jury on March 18, 2014, found Linda Chen Mai, an employee of the Trinh Company in San Jose, CA, guilty on four counts of causing meat food products to become misbranded and falsely representing the meat as being inspected and passed by USDA with intent to defraud. Mai will be sentenced this month on the charges that were originally brought in a 2011 indictment. In a second criminal case, a Louisiana company pleaded guilty to a felony and its president to a misdemeanor, both agreeing to pay fines and serve probationary time. El Ranchito of Tickfaw, LA, pleaded guilty to a felony count for selling and transporting adulterated meat. It was fined $6,000 and sentenced to one year of probation for selling and transporting adulterated meat and meat products in commerce. Joel Cervantes, president of El Ranchito, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of the inhumane slaughter of swine and was sentenced to probation for one year, 30 hours of community service, a $1,000 fine, and a $25 restitution fee. Cervantes must also complete an educational course in humane handling of animals. Previously, he’d been charged with a felony for inhumane slaughter of swine. In the third criminal action of the quarter, Jorge F. Ortega, owner of Jorge’s Farm in Citrus Park, FL, was indicted March 11 on three counts of selling adulterated and/or misbranded meat food products in commerce and selling meat without inspection in commerce. In civil actions, New York City’s Island Farm Meat Corp. and Mahammed Aldeen, company president, entered into an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office on Jan. 27, 2014, that requires them to pay $12,000 in civil penalties and restitution for violations of a 2009 consent degree. USDA administrative law judges used their powers to close and open meat businesses three times during the quarter. FSIS filed to indefinitely continue the suspension of Nebraska’s Finest Meats in Randolph, NE. It was the company involved in selling meat without USDA inspection to the school lunch program in Omaha. FSIS also entered into a consent order with Mongiello Italian Cheese Specialties LLC in Hurleyville, NY. The order allows inspections to resume after the company’s operations were suspended last Oct. 23 for insanitary conditions and failure to control Listeria monocytogenes. The order calls for additional sampling and testing by FSIS, which had earlier sought to end its inspections of the facility. For Brooksville, KY-based Brooksville Meat Fabrication, a USDA administrative law judge did grant a default decision and order indefinitely suspending assignment of inspections to the plant for repetitive and egregious inhumane handing and slaughter violations. That decision and order became effective March 25. USDA meat inspectors were a little less busy during the January through March period than during the previous quarter. They inspected about 35.02 million livestock carcasses, which was down from about 35.6 million carcass inspections in the previous period. The somewhat lower levels may have been due to smaller herds and higher beef prices. The meat inspectors performed more than 1.619 million verification procedures and documented 24,557 instances of noncompliance, for a compliance rate of 98.6 percent. New appeals were filed by the industry for 301 noncompliance reports, more than doubling the number of pending appeals that existed at the end of the period. Meat and poultry imports were up during the quarter by more than 43 million pounds, an increase of about 5.25 percent, to more than 820.62 million pounds. USDA’s meat inspectors condemned 51,252 livestock and more than 11 million poultry carcasses during the quarter. Separately from the Enforcement Report for the period ending March 21, FSIS released its Quarterly Progress Report on Salmonella and Campylobacter testing. That report is for Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, the first quarter of the federal fiscal year. In tests of selected raw meat and poultry products, FSIS sampling found improvements for ground beef, ground chicken and turkey. Overall, finished chicken products continued to return high levels of Salmonella contamination, with 82.93 percent positive for mechanically separated chicken. That compares to a campylobacter contamination rate of 20.69 percent for mechanically separated chicken.