County silent on recalled beef |

County silent on recalled beef

One day after Nevada County officials announced recalled beef was served in three Truckee-area restaurants, they continued to stand behind a decision not to disclose the names of those businesses to the public.

While the county is steadfast, the issue drew mixed opinions from owners of local eateries.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Ken Cutler said Thursday there would be nothing to gain by divulging the names of the eastern Nevada County restaurants. The eateries served beef that was part of a federal recall because it might have been exposed to the agent that causes mad cow disease.

Federal, state and local health officials said the risk of harm to the public was almost nonexistent.

“In this case, there is no more useful information to be given out,” Cutler said. “If I thought there was information that would have significant impact on public health, we would make all efforts to make that known.”

Cutler said the county’s stance was based on a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Health, which oversees the county’s department, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the memo, there is an exemption for proprietary information in the federal Freedom of Information Act, protecting companies that recall meat from having to divulge where they sent it.

California Newspaper Publisher Association lawyer Jim Ewert agreed that federal law protects the restaurants and the governmental entities. “They can withhold it,” Ewert said.

But for area restaurants that did not receive recalled beef, keeping the names secret can mean keeping business away.

“I think it’s wrong mainly because it’s casting a dispersion among every restaurant,” said John Soares, owner of The Owl Grill and Saloon.

Soares said he pays a premium to avoid such problems by buying high-quality beef. The Owl’s supplier has a USDA inspector on staff to examine every piece of meat going out the door, he said.

“That way I’m ensured that I’m passing on a known, good-quality product (to customers),” Soares said.

Peace of mind is worth the extra money Soares pays for the beef, he said.

Not all restaurant owners are sure disclosure is a good thing, though.

George Dyer, who owns South Pine Cafe and Downtown George’s in Nevada City, said he can see both sides of the dilemma.

None of the three restaurants knowingly served the recalled beef. All received notice from the government after the fact.

Naming the business that unintentionally served meat with an extremely slim potential of hurting anyone could be unfair, he said.

“If it were me to have the problem, it would be scary to be one of the people named,” Dyer said.

It would be more helpful to know who distributed the beef, he said.

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