Blood in the Streets: Harris County Suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Over Alleged Violations

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After more than two years of alleged violations, Harris County is suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat.The Harris County Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats last Friday requesting an injunction and civil penalties against Irfan Sheikh, the owner of the slaughterhouse. The suit alleges that Sheikh has discharged industrial waste into state waters, improperly stored animal parts and discharged contaminated storm waters without a permit. And according to the recorded violations, this has been going on for years.

It started with blood in the streets.

Well, bloody water, technically. On Dec. 31, 2012, someone called in to complain about a slaughter house, Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats, located on 13221 Old Richmond Road out on the very edge of Harris County. Bloody water was filling up the parking lot and slopping into the streets, the caller reported, according to court documents.

A Harris County Pollution Control investigator went out to the scene and "observed blood and smelled a metallic odor" in a ditch in front of a property just east of Texas Farm Fresh Halal. There must have been about 500 gallons of blood, she figured, according to court records. She noticed a small pool of blood, just a few inches wide, next to the fence bordering the two properties, with a 25-foot trail connecting the small pool of blood to the larger amount in the ditch, according to court documents. And this was just the beginning.

The investigator continued following the gory trail, tracking pools of blood to the animal holding pens and then to the kill floor. She watched the blood flowing from the site at a rate of about a quarter of a gallon per minute. And then a violation was issued against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats. A couple days later the investigators came back and managers of the company said that the kill floor waste is set up to flow into a septic tank, but the septic tank was clogged, hence the blood in the streets.

In July 2013 another investigator showed up to check out the slaughter house. Among other issues, the investigator found an enclosed trailer labeled "inedible," the place where the slaughterhouse waste was kept, which would have been fine except the trailer wasn't being kept at temperatures that would keep these animal leftovers from spoiling, according to court documents. The court records state that the investigator "detected an odor in the area near the trailer and observed numerous flies." (This might be the legalese understatement of the year considering this was Houston right in the heart of sticky summer.)

After that Harris County investigators kept coming out to Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat and finding more of the same problems, including septic tanks filled to the brim with bloody water, refrigerated storage areas for the animals parts and juices that were not properly refrigerated. During one investigation a sample of some bloody water found on the site revealed high levels of E coli. Another investigator reported a refrigeration storage area leaking animal juices and found an assortment of rotting animal pieces, animal liquids, chicken feathers and maggots inside the container.

Or in short, there was a whole bunch of really gross stuff found repeatedly.

The case was sent over to the Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan's office due to the number of violations, Lauren Hudson, an assistant county attorney with the environmental division, says. Also, there's the concern about potentially spreading disease. "This property does not sell meat to grocery stores at this time, but Harris County citizens do go pick out animals and take the meat home, and they're stepping in it," Hudson says.

Hudson says that its possible the leakage problems could be fixed if Sheikh fixed up the plumbing at the site. Harris County is asking for $151,000 in civil penalties.

We've tried to speak with Sheikh or any representative of Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat, but our calls have yet to be returned. While he hasn't spoken with us, Sheikh's brother talked with KTRK and denied all of the allegations, claiming they were never cited and that investigators can't prove the blood was coming from their slaughterhouse. (It's worth noting that there are a handful of slaughterhouses on Old Richmond Road, including Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat.) We visited the slaughterhouse to see if we could get in touch with Sheihk.

There wasn't any blood in sight when we went to Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat on Tuesday morning. A small Asian woman briskly scrubbed her palms on the front of her black rubber apron as she asked in broken English what we wanted. When we said we wanted to speak with the owner, she nodded, showed us into a large room with windows that allowed you to watch the front of the place, including the animal pen.

The whole place was cold like a refrigerator and the air was laced with the heavy, metallic smell of fresh meat. Shortly after, the woman came back, saying Sheikh wasn't in. She taped our contact information to his desk, leaving a small thumbprint of pink smear where she pressed the tape down. "He will call soon."

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