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Damaged Goods: How A Truck Accident Leads To Cheap Cheese


Everybody has a guy. Maybe a good car guy, the guy at the butcher shop who save scraps for your dog, a cigar guy. But then there's the guy we're about to meet. He can get you a great deal after something's gone wrong. Aaron Schachter of member station WGBH introduces us to that guy.

AARON SCHACHTER, BYLINE: Mike Mentuck is the kind of guy who can get you a truckload of goat meat or a hundred smoke-damaged coffins or 19 tons of cheese that was on its way to a large supermarket.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A tractor trailer carrying 38,000 pounds of cheese overturned at Exit 10 on I-93 South.

SCHACHTER: This is Mentuck's bread and butter, so to speak. He's a salvor, someone who handles stuff salvaged from fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, truck wrecks.

MIKE MENTUCK: Everything from an anchor to a needle. I mean, just anything that's ever been insured we've handled.

SCHACHTER: Most of the work is done directly for insurance companies that would lose a pile if they had to pay full damages.

M. MENTUCK: I've brought planes up from the bottom of the ocean. I've sold brand-new television sets in a rolled over truck.

SCHACHTER: Mentuck's a bit of a comedian. His motto - the impossible we do right away. The rest might take a day or two.

M. MENTUCK: The salvage business is what we like to say is the second oldest profession in the world. I'll leave it to you to figure out the first.

SCHACHTER: Joking aside, to do what Mentuck does you've got to be fast. The smoke-damaged coffins can last forever, but a good bit of what he deals with is perishable, frozen or refrigerated food worth hundreds of thousands of dollars being transported around the world - lobster, shrimp, haddock and cheese.


BOB WALSH: Claims Management Services. Bob Walsh.

SCHACHTER: Bob Walsh is a senior claims adjuster with a company called Claims Management Services. And the morning after that cheese truck crash, Walsh got the call.

WALSH: I jump in my car. I've got my camera. I've got my recorder. I've got everything that I need. I go out to the scene and I document what it is.

SCHACHTER: What Walsh found was a truckload of perfectly good cheese. And so he called Mike Mentuck. Within a couple days, a supermarket in Tennessee and guys in Saudi Arabia and India offered to buy the cheese for 30 grand, saving the insurance company about 30 percent. What Mentuck unloads goes just about everywhere. He's worked in 38 countries, all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. Most of the stuff is snapped up by distributors who resell it to department stores, supermarkets and food banks. But isn't there something kind of off about food that was in an overturned truck being resold? I asked Mentuck's son, Doug.

It sounds creepy that cheese that was in an accident might end up on my kid's sandwich.

DOUGLAS MENTUCK: This industry is based on our reputation. You know, a reputation is a hard thing to build up and a very easy thing to lose. So we don't want to lose business because we make a mistake. So we try like hell not to make mistakes.

SCHACHTER: Losing business would be a big deal because there's big money to be made. There are only about half a dozen serious salvors in the U.S.

M. MENTUCK: My Rolodex is worth a million bucks because I think I know everybody in the country that's interested in buying salvage of any kind.

SCHACHTER: Mike Mentuck's not joking here. Insurance companies around the world had to deal with nearly a billion dollars' worth of damaged goods last year. And that's good news for the salvors of the world. It's good to know a guy. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schachter in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEIRUT SONG, "GIBRALTAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aaron Schachter

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