Editor’s Note: Ralph Cator, founder of Cardinal Meat Specialists, will be inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame on October 30. Cardinal Meats, now under the leadership of his son, Brent, contributed this article to commemorate Ralph’s achievements in the industry.

Cardinal is extremely proud of Ralph Cator’s upcoming induction into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, yet no one is prouder than his son Brent, who runs the company today.

 Ralph Cator started his meat career at the age of 8, working after school in one of his father Jack Cator’s butcher shop in Toronto. By the age of eighteen, he was a manager of one of those shops. Not content as an employee, he goaded his father into selling him part ownership in all four shops over time. While working at the stores, he recognized an opportunity to better serve the rapidly growing foodservice sector as a full-time meat purveyor.

Ralph founded Cardinal Meat Specialists in 1966. To help bridge the gap between retail merchants and meat purveyors, Ralph joined the National Association of Meat Purveyors (now known as the North American Meat Processors) and became its first Canadian president in 1992.

Ralph was always a believer in adopting new processes and GMPs for the right reason (versus being regulated), and this philosophy resulted in Cardinal leading the way in innovation and food safety from very early on. These principles carry on today and continue to benefit Cardinal and the industry as a whole.

Ralph recently discussed the changes in our industries’ food safety practices. It was interesting to be reminded of how far we have come in ensuring the safety of our products.

“Back in the days of the old ‘sawdust-on-the-floor’ meat markets (the sawdust was to capture any blood, fat or chewing tobacco juice on the service side of the counter as well as rain, snow or other stuff tracked in by customers on their side of the service counter). The wooden meat cutting blocks were cleaned in much the same way—one would toss a handful of fresh sawdust on the block and scrub the entire surface with a coarse wire brush ‘til it was snow white. Getting rid of the day’s residue was seen to be more important than whatever might have been in that ‘clean’ sawdust or the odd wire bristle left behind,” mused Ralph. “Our first plant was shared with a butter, egg and chicken distributor. Eggs, New York dressed poultry and meat all required refrigeration, so why not?

“As time went on, customers became more sophisticated, requiring inspection of some sort beyond the annual visit by the municipal guy. We went with them and became a federally inspected facility in 1971. This learning experience showed us that we could differentiate ourselves by being not only “as good as” but ahead of our competitors with a more proactive approach to food safety as well as incorporating leading edge production equipment. We adopted a policy of trying to make our federal inspectors smile a lot every day. Being first with cryogenic freezing of burgers gave us a talking point with customers as well as a significant product advantage—things we still look for today.”

Whether it be the first use of DNA by a meat processor or the role Cardinal plays in holding the industry to the “right thing to do” with E. coli 0157:H7, Cardinal continues to follow the principles laid out by Ralph in the very beginning.