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Friday, February 27th, 2009

Fort Recovery slaughter house under investigation

By Margie Wuebker
Where's the beef?
The Mercer County Sheriff's Office and the Fort Recovery Police Department want answers in the wake of numerous complaints regarding business practices at Vonderhaar's Quality Meats located at 522 E. Boundary St. in Fort Recovery.
Owner John Bihn contacted the sheriff's office Feb. 13 after receiving complaints from customers claiming they did not receive all the meat from steers brought to the facility for slaughter and processing.
Bihn purchased the meat market a year ago from Bob Vonderhaar. He hired others to oversee operations. The names of those people, who were let go in the wake of the investigation, have not been released.
Investigators subsequently met with Bihn and then interviewed several witnesses and/or alleged victims. A search warrant was executed at 7:03 a.m. Feb. 16, with deputies seizing boxes of business records and photographing hanging beef.
"The USDA has guidelines indicating how much meat a 1,500-pound steer should yield," Sheriff Jeff Grey told The Daily Standard on Thursday afternoon. "Some customers reported coming up several hundred pounds short."
Bihn began receiving complaints in late July or early August. In addition to reported shortages, some customers suspected they were not getting meat from the animals they brought in while others stated their processed meat did not smell or taste right.
"The smell could come from the meat hanging too long," Bihn told the newspaper. "But a farmer who consistently uses the same feed should expect the same meat flavor."
One customer not only supplied a photograph of the animal brought in for slaughter but two packages of T-bone steaks - one from the freshly processed animal and the other from a previous order of a similar-sized steer. The new steaks were half the size of the others, leading Bihn to suspect they did not come from the steer in the photograph.
While the business primarily focuses on slaughter and processing, it also offered some retail service.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of this," Grey said.
Investigators are attempting to identify victims and determine a pattern of corrupt activity. Local residents who have information are invited to talk to investigators from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Fort Recovery Village Hall. People unable to come that night can call the sheriff's office at 419-586-7724 or the police department at 419-375-2662.
"Vonderhaar's has been a part of this community for at least 50 years and we want to keep it running," Bihn said. "We're making things right and making changes in an orderly fashion."
Bihn's son John Jr., known as Bear, assumed management duties Monday. He has retained some "good, local people" who previously worked for Vonderhaar's and hopes to get back to capacity of five to six employees shortly, John Bihn said. The Bihns are seeking an experienced meat cutter at this time.
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