DennisBeaverJune 15, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

If you love to barbecue, then if I say Omaha Steaks, the next word that pops into your head will probably be dinner, followed by mouth-watering, followed by dinner once more, and that will be followed by “Where’s my credit card?”

Omaha Steaks is a company with instant name recognition. After close to 100 years, it is still family-owned. Five generations have been selling some of America’s finest beef — at a premium price — through mail order, retail stores, a website and an 800 number.

As Americans are meat lovers, and Omaha Steaks do cost more than supermarket meat, this has opened the door to con artists ripping off their good name, selling inferior cuts of meat to an unsuspecting public.

The phone call “You and the Law” received from a Lemoore reader is a good illustration of how imitation is the highest — and in this case, illegal — form of flattery.

‘A truck shows up in your neighborhood’

Bonnie lives in Lemoore and is married to Ted, a Navy pilot.

She phoned “You and the Law,” explaining, “There is a blue and red van on our street with a guy wearing what looks like a butcher’s white outfit, going door to door, telling people that he is overstocked with Omaha Steaks, which we can buy for a discounted price.

“We love to barbecue and had Omaha Steaks once, which we thought were great, but I am very suspicious of meat being sold this way. Is this legit or a scam? Is it legal to sell meat door to door?”

We immediately phoned Omaha Steaks and spoke with Beth Weiss, corporate communication director.

“Omaha Steaks does not sell door to door, but we get these reports every spring and summer, when it is peak grilling season.

A truck shows up in your neighborhood with a sign which reads, “Steaks from Omaha” or something like that, perhaps even using our name directly.

“Then a sales team goes door to door, offering what appear to be expensive cuts of meat at very attractive prices, often making it sound as if it is our meat they are selling. Of course, it is not our product and very often turns out to be very poor quality.

“Another way consumers become victims is when they see a truck parked on a corner with big signs that say ‘Ribeyes from Omaha.’ People dressed just as your reader described — looking like they are butchers — give the very clear impression that they are selling Omaha Steaks,” she adds.

“But if you want to see something that is just so wrong, we have even had reports of these door-to-door crooks showing customers steaks which they remove from our boxes, but, of course, it is not our meat.

“They tell the unsuspecting customer, ‘The only way we can give you this phenomenal price is for us to keep the box!”

It’s dangerous to buy meat sold door to door

“It is simply dangerous to buy meat that is sold door to door or off some truck that suddenly appears in your neighborhood. Reputable, home-delivery meat sellers ship product directly to the customer, packed in dry ice so that it arrives frozen, assuring the ultimate in food safety,” Weiss points out.

“Established, credible companies have full guarantees of a refund or replacement. It just makes no sense to put your health at risk in buying from some unknown, door-to-door seller,” she said.

“We caution consumers who are enticed to buy meat door to door. You have no idea how it has been handled.

“There are a multitude of food safety issues. We strongly caution against ever buying meat door to door that is not from a reputable company,” Weiss concluded.

The one reputable home-delivery food company that likely comes to mind is Schwan, whose large yellow and green trucks you can’t miss.

‘You need to have your head examined’

“You and the Law” spoke with weights and measures departments in a number of counties and repeatedly heard the same message: “Don’t buy meat sold door to door! You are going to be ripped off. It is dangerous.”

“Rudy,” a weights and measures officer in a rural, Northern California county, was even more direct:

“You need to have your head examined if you even consider buying meat, seafood or fish from some guy going door to door, even if the packages are properly labeled and therefore legal. You will almost always become a sucker, grossly overpaying for usually a very low-quality product. But more importantly, you are gambling with the health of anyone who eats it.  “Do not look at this as saving money or a good deal. Think of who you could be hurting.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.