Make us your home page
Instagram

Direct USA sues ex-supplier over bad meat

ST. PETERSBURG — They're a familiar sight in some bay area neighborhoods: men and women in unmarked pickup trucks, selling frozen meat and seafood door-to-door out of a refrigerated box marked Direct USA. "Delicious food!" the container reads.

In some recent cases, "Not salable for human consumption" might have been a more accurate motto, according to a lawsuit the St. Petersburg company filed this month against a former supplier.

Direct USA claims it spent upwards of $500,000 issuing cash refunds or replacement items to hundreds of customers who complained about inedible meat. The 10-year-old company says a "significant quantity" of the beef, pork or chicken it bought from Illinois-based Quantum Foods over an unspecified period was spoiled or mushy, contained excessive fat or gristle, or had "unusual" flavors or smells. Direct USA says it didn't know the meat was bad because it arrived frozen and vacuum-packed, and flaws typically don't appear until after the meat thaws.

Quantum Foods has not yet responded to the lawsuit. Spokesman Ken Trantowski said Wednesday that Direct USA still owes it money for past shipments, and he confirmed that the companies' nearly five-year relationship ended in December 2007. (Direct USA has since hired a new supplier.)

Direct USA's owner, 42-year-old Largo resident Steven S. James, declined to be interviewed. But Tampa attorney Rick Fee, who represents the company, said some of the Quantum Foods meat was so bad that one customer claimed to have given it to the family dog. "The problem is, Quantum's name isn't on the box. Our name is," he said. Toward that end, Direct USA "immediately" supplied refunds or exchanges to customers who complained— an honorable approach "in an industry, door-to-door sales, that is generally not well-regarded," Fee said.

But some customers weren't so quick to absolve Direct USA from blame:

• Like Quantum Foods, a top supplier to the U.S. military, Direct USA has an "unsatisfactory" with the Better Business Bureau. But whereas Quantum was the subject of just two complaints over the past three years, Direct USA has been targeted with 48, and it has failed to respond to 15 of them.

• In 2006, Carolyn Hunter of Bushnell bought five boxes of steaks for $161 from a Direct USA saleswoman who approached her in a Tampa parking lot. A week later, she invited friends over for a barbecue but found the steaks inedible. Hunter claims she spent months trying to get a refund without success until she filed a complaint. A company manager offered to exchange the steaks for pork, but those, too, proved awful. "I ended up throwing them away because they just tasted so bizarre," she said in an interview. "I could buy better cuts at Publix for cheaper."

• James McArdle of Sebastian said he and several friends fell ill after eating meat purchased from Direct USA in 2005. "I contacted them and they gave me the run around for over four or five months," he said in an e-mail to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "I would hate for someone else to get sick or even die from this." (Agriculture Department spokesman Terry McElroy said Direct USA is properly licensed and has passed regular inspections of its cold-storage facility and refrigerated truck containers.)

Fee, the Direct USA attorney, said the company never conducted a recall of Quantum's meat because not all of it was bad. He did not respond to e-mailed questions Wednesday about one unusual practice: why his client's Web site recommends customers barbecue their steaks frozen rather than thawed.

Joe G. McCullough, an executive vice president with the National Barbecue Association in Austin, Texas, said professional barbecue cooks always thaw their meat first. Grilling "slow and low" allows the meat to cook evenly, the smoke to penetrate, and the fat to properly break down. Grilling frozen steak "just goes against the grain of everything our guys would do," he said.

Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

What if a meat seller knocks on your door?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consumers take several precautions before purchasing frozen meat from a door-to-door seller:

• Make sure the dealer is licensed, obtain its local address and phone number, and ask for a price list.

• Make sure the meat's label contains information on where it was inspected. If there is a USDA grade — a voluntary service paid for by the supplier — it also will be listed on the label. The cut, such as tenderloin or shoulder roast, should also be listed.

• You should receive a receipt or contract and two copies of a cancellation form. Under federal law, you have three days to cancel the sale.

Source: Door-to-Door Meat Sales, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Direct USA sues ex-supplier over bad meat 04/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 3:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.