Madison restaurateur Dan Fox fed table scraps that may have included animal products to his pigs — a practice barred by state law — had them slaughtered and then distributed the meat to more than a dozen restaurants, all without the necessary state permits, according to records of a state investigation into his operation.
Steve Ingham, administrator of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Division of Food Safety, declined to discuss details of the investigation into Fox Heritage Farms in Fitchburg but said the case focuses mainly on alleged unlicensed meat production.
“The meat industry is pretty tightly regulated, and there are a lot of things that actually the processor needs to do to ensure safety,” Ingham said. “And we verify that they do those.”
In late October or early November, a DATCP investigator visited more than a dozen Madison-area and Milwaukee restaurants and other business that were receiving products from Fox Heritage Farms, 5957 McKee Road.
Matt Kaesermann from DATCP’s division of food safety was looking for Fox’s pork products, and in some cases confiscating them, restaurant owners said.
In letters dated Nov. 7, Kaesermann contacted the owners of 14 businesses DATCP said were carrying Fox’s products. The letters, obtained by the State Journal, stated that the restaurants had engaged in the sale of meat products from an unapproved source.
The documents show that Fox was selling meat to businesses including Johnny Delmonico’s, the Madison Club, Karben4 Brewing, Yumbutter, Brasserie V, Pig in A Fur Coat and L’Etoile.
In a “cease and desist” order to Fox dated Nov. 11, Kaesermann said Fox Heritage Farms was “engaged in the sale of misbranded multiple ingredient meat products, specifically pork.” In addition, it said, Fox was operating as a meat broker or meat distributor without department registration.
Among other things, state law requires that meat be labeled to identify who processed the product and what it contains and include safe handling instructions. If sold for retail, such meat also needs to be labeled “perishable, keep refrigerated, keep under refrigeration, or keep frozen.”
DATCP also regulates the feeding of table scraps to pigs. Beginning in 1968, state law made it unlawful to feed pigs “public or commercial garbage,” defined as animal or vegetable wastes containing animal parts.
In response to an anonymous complaint that Fox was feeding table scraps to his pigs, Beth Cleary, environmental health services supervisor for Public Health Madison and Dane County, inspected how he and his employees sorted food waste from his fine-dining restaurant, Heritage Tavern, 131 E. Mifflin St., and off-site catering locations for feeding the pigs.
“Vegetable, fruit, dairy, egg shells and/or bakery were observed in the buckets,” Cleary wrote in an email to DATCP, adding that Fox called her later that day to discuss the complaint.
“He knows that he cannot feed the pigs animal food,” and they discussed labeling the feed buckets “no animal food” and writing a policy for his staff to follow, Cleary wrote.
In another email to DATCP, state veterinarian Paul McGraw said the state law barring the use of animal waste in feed has been interpreted to include any animal products. Therefore, dairy-based products would not be allowed.
“Basically, the only waste they could feed to the pigs would be if they kept the vegetable waste separate from all other food preparation,” McGraw wrote.
Fox declined to discuss the investigation Wednesday, saying he would talk only about his restaurant.
“I’m not going to answer questions about this specific thing,” he said.
Ingham said the meat was pulled from the restaurants not necessarily because it was unsafe but because of the possibility that it could be.
“Do I know if that meat is unsafe? I don’t. But it wasn’t legal,” he said. “We always err on the side of safety and getting things squared away.”