February 21, 2008 in City

Beef recall hits schools

By The Spokesman-Review

Recalled beef

To be incinerated by area school districts:

Spokane Public Schools: More than 300 cases.

Central Valley School District: 541 cases.

Coeur d’Alene School District: 110 cases of ground beef, 74 cases of hamburger patties.

Spokane and North Idaho school districts will incinerate thousands of pounds of beef as part of the nation’s largest-ever recall of meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ordered schools to burn anything in excess of 50 cases of frozen meat coming from the California-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co., officials said.

“We’ve held back all our beef products” to be cautious, said Cathy Abbott, Mead School District director of food services.

She said the district has about 50 cases – or 5,000 hamburger patties – affected by the USDA recall, and has held beef from the menu as a precaution. Other districts are looking at the disposal of hundreds of cases and thousands of pounds of the potentially tainted meat.

Officials say Spokane Public Schools has more than 300 cases of the beef in storage, and Central Valley School District has 541 cases – more than 11,000 pounds, said Melanie Rose, district spokeswoman.

The Coeur d’Alene School District will dispose of 110 cases of ground beef and 74 cases of hamburger patties, the district announced in a news release. Districts must work with local health agencies to coordinate the incineration.

“Please be assured that we have removed and are in the process (of destroying) products that are still in our district,” said Ed Ducar, Coeur d’Alene’s director of nutrition services.

On Sunday, the USDA announced the recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef from the California slaughterhouse, following an animal abuse investigation.

About 37 million pounds – cuts, ground beef and prepared foods like meatballs – went to schools and other agencies who participate in the National School Lunch Program. The program provides districts with federal dollars for the purchase of USDA commodities, based on the number of students participating in the program.

“Of the commodities they receive beef is certainly one of the largest ones,” followed by cheese, poultry, fruits and vegetables, said Skip Skinner, who works in food distribution with the Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Skinner said the breadth of the recall – which reaches back as far as two years – means much of the meat distributed to schools has likely already been consumed. School and federal officials have reported no cases of illness tied to the recalled meat.

Districts were notified in January that the meat was possibly tainted and were told to put it on hold and not to serve it, local officials said.

Schools receive meat and food products from several vendors, including local producers and processors, officials said. So the recall didn’t hurt the districts’ ability to keep serving lunches.

“We already had enough beef to carry us through the next three to six months” and didn’t need any of the Westland beef, said Doug Wordell, Spokane’s director of nutrition services.

Many schools are also holding cases of the Westland beef in cold storage. Central Valley said most of the district’s recalled meat is stored at Empire Cold Storage in northwest Spokane, along with beef from at least four other districts, including Mead, Cheney Public Schools, West Valley and the Nine Mile Falls district.

CV’s Rose said minor adjustments to school menus will be needed because of the recall.

“We certainly have enough other food items to fill the gaps; but of course the menus are planned in advance so we’ll need to go through it,” Rose said.

In Washington, about 70 percent of agencies that participate in the federal school nutrition program – including public and private schools and some daycare centers – will be affected by the recall.

Washington officials are holding about 340,000 pounds of beef scheduled to be shipped and estimate an additional 250,000 pounds of the meat will be destroyed by school districts statewide.

“That information is still coming in,” said Skinner, who will coordinate with school districts to help with disposal of the meat.

In Spokane, school officials will meet with the Spokane Regional Health District and Waste Management to coordinate disposal at the Waste-to-Energy plant, likely this week. Idaho schools will work with the Panhandle Health Department and Kootenai County Solid Waste Department.

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