Boxes of processed and packaged venison are stored in a freezer at Hardwoods Deer Processing on Philema Road Wednesday afternoon. The facility has been shut down while a claim of rancid meat is investigated.
LEESBURG, Ga. — The owner of a local deer processing business said Wednesday he’s “done what I’m supposed to do” in an effort to get a valid business license in Lee County, and he denied a claim that “rancid meat” had hung in the cooler at the business.
Chris McLendon of Cataula, the owner of Hardwoods Deer Processing on Philema Road in Lee County, made the comments in response to an article that appeared in Wednesday’s Albany Herald.
In that article, Chief Lee County Marshal/Code Enforcement Officer Jim Wright outlined complaints against Hardwoods that led to a pair of citations against the business and sparked an investigation by the Department of Natural Resources.
“I invited you out here today to see our facility for yourself,” McLendon told a Herald reporter. “There is a smell here, but it’s not a strong, rancid smell as it was described to you. It’s a smell that’s associated with the butchering of meat. And, as you can see, there are no blowflies in here.
“We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on bleach since we opened here (in September) because one thing I’m adamant about is cleanliness. Frankly, I was kind of shocked to read what (Wright) said about our business. I wouldn’t serve my kids meat that’s bad, and I certainly wouldn’t serve anything like that to yours.”
Hardwoods was cited twice by Lee Code Enforcement — on Dec. 28 and on Monday — for operating without a valid business license, and McLendon said his failure to obtain the license was the result of a “misunderstanding.”
“I had a business license to operate in Harris County, but I was told that I would need a separate one in Lee County,” he said. “When the people from the fire department did their electrical inspection, they said they saw a couple of minor problems. I barely know how to screw in a light bulb, so I had an electrician out here to address the problems on Nov. 4.
“My electrician did everything he was told to do, and we’ve since tried several times to get them to come back out here and follow up. We haven’t heard a word from them; they haven’t returned a one of our calls.”
Lee County’s chief building inspector said Wednesday he has no record of a call from McLendon or anyone associated with Hardwoods.
“I can promise you I did not get a telephone call from them, and we did not get a call from them at this office,” Joey Davenport said. “Our response time might be delayed if we’re backed up, but the way this office operates is we return calls.
“Myself and (Lee Fire) Chief (James) Howell went out to that location personally, and we found a lot of electrical and other issues that needed attention. We told them to fix everything that was wrong and we’d come back. The guy said he had customers with meat in their cooler, and in trying to be business friendly we told him we’d give him a little more time to get things done. But it went on and on, and we pretty much felt like we were being ignored.”
Wright, who cited both McLendon and his managing partner, Joe Aldridge, said Wednesday representatives of any business are responsible for making sure it is in compliance.
“Before he even starts operating, it is his responsibility to make sure he’s done everything he needs to do,” Wright said. “He’s the one who failed to do that.”
McLendon, who works in sales, had previously opened a similar processing facility in Columbus.
“I’ve never had an issue like this before,” he said. “Frankly, I thought we’d done everything we were supposed to do. I’m not calling anyone a liar, but it seems we have a case of a ‘phantom odor’ here. I’m disappointed and really shocked by all this.”
Asked about a report that Hardwoods’ cooler had malfunctioned during the Christmas holidays, McLendon said the cooling system was not out long enough for meat to have spoiled.
“Our cooler was down for about four hours on Christmas Day,” he said. “The temperature may have gone from around 34 degrees to close to 50 in that time, but it was not long enough for the meat to have been affected.”
McLendon said he’s closed Hardwoods for the season but will keep his cooler running long enough for hunters to claim the meat they’ve left for processing.
“I’ll call everyone and remind them that their meat is ready,” he said. “If anybody’s panicked (by the report) and doesn’t pick up their meat, I’ll donate it to a food bank. I’m not going to let it go to waste.
“One thing I do plan to do, though, is take the meat we have here and get it tested, if only for my own satisfaction. I’m sure I dropped the ball by not being here a lot of the time, but I honestly believe I tried to do everything the way it should have been done. I believe a lot of this was just a case of miscommunication. I’d certainly come back here next year and re-open if we can work this out.”
McLendon and Aldridge have appearances scheduled in Lee Magistrate’s Court Feb. 7.