Saturday, 25 May 2024

Schools destroyed beef following USDA recall

LAKE COUNTY – Local school officials said this week that they destroyed cases of beef products in February after receiving word from the US Department of Agriculture that the meat in question could have come from a slaughterhouse under investigation for using sick and injured cattle.

Two local school districts – Konocti Unified and Lakeport Unified – were among districts in 45 states believed to have received some of the 143 million pounds of recalled beef, according to a USDA Food and Nutrition Service report released last week.

The beef in question came from the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino between Feb. 1, 2006 and Feb 4. 2008, as Lake County News has reported.

The slaughterhouse was shut down in early February after a Humane Society of the United States investigation helped uncover the company's slaughter of “downer” cattle – animals so sick they can no longer stand or walk – and cruel practices employed by laborers on the animals.

Erin Smith-Hagberg, superintendent of Lakeport Unified School District, told Lake County News that the USDA is very efficient with their recall notifications to school districts.

Smith-Hagberg said the district's cafeteria director received an e-mail from the USDA about the recall on Feb. 5.

Lakeport Unified did not receive any direct products that were on the recall list, according to Smith-Hagberg. However, a processing company that the district uses may have received some of the beef.

Smith-Hagberg said that, as a precaution, the district immediately disposed of the 10 cases of beef products that came from that particular processing company.

Lakeport Unified serves 1,200 lunches and 300 breakfasts each day through its food services, said Smith-Hagberg.

That compares with the nearly 2,000 lunches and 900 breakfasts served on school days at schools in the Konocti Unified School District, said Marla Peterson, director of Konocti Unified's Child Nutrition Program.

Peterson said Konocti Unified received 206 cases of processed beef products from Westlands/Hallmark. The district was notified of the issue with the meat on Feb. 15.

“We've never had a recall this huge,” said Peterson, who has worked with the district for 25 years.

Because the recall covered meat produced at the Chino slaughterhouse in a two-year period, Peterson said she's sure some of the beef was served in the district at some point.

The USDA, however, has reported that no illnesses have been reported because of the meat, which was recalled for regulatory noncompliance.

At the time of the recall, the cases of beef were still located in Konocti Unified's central freezer facility and hadn't yet been distributed to the various schools, said Peterson.

As soon as she was notified, Peterson said she called the schools' cooks to apprise them of the situation. They kept dishes using similar beef products off the menu “just to make sure,” she added.

“We had to destroy the 206 cases on our site,” she said, with that product valued at a little under $2,800.

The destruction process included making two trips to the landfill, where the USDA required that the beef had to be plowed into the ground, said Peterson. A landfill official and warehouseman also had to sign a USDA affidavit confirming that the meat had been destroyed.

Peterson said the district diverts the ground beef it receives as commodity to a processor, where the meat is made into products. The district's processor had another 11,000 pounds of the meat. She added that the processor is handling that meat's destruction.

The USDA said it will provide replacement commodities.

“We were pretty lucky,” she said.

Peterson said it's not uncommon to get recalls on some items produced by private companies, such as a recent green bean recall. She added that the California Department of Health sends out regular updates on food recall issues.

However, she said this was the first time a recall involved products distributed by the USDA.

Denise Moore of the California Department of Education's Food Distribution Program told Lake County News that, in all, state schools received 15.8 million pounds of recalled beef valued at $24 million.

Of that, it's estimated that 4.2 million pounds – or about 152,216 cases of beef – have been destroyed, with the remainder having been consumed, said Moore.

However, Moore said that only 78-percent of school districts have responded to requests the Department of Education has made for information about their beef supplies, so estimates of how much may have been consumed could change.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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