City schools holding beef linked to recall
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At least 175 schools statewide, including the Pittsburgh Public Schools, received potentially harmful beef from a southern California slaughterhouse at the center of a major recall.
The Pittsburgh district learned about the hazard Feb. 1 from two of its vendors, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said. She said the packages, valued at $12,000, will be kept at a food-service warehouse until agriculture officials tell the district what to do with them.
"They're marked, 'hold, do not use, until further notice,'" Ms. Pugh said.
The beef was a part of larger shipments from the vendors, which Ms. Pugh couldn't immediately identify, and she said some of the meat had been consumed by students before the warning arrived.
There have been no reports of illness, Ms. Pugh said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Sunday that Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino, Calif., will recall about 143.4 million pounds of raw and frozen beef because of a "remote" health risk.
The animals passed one inspection but later lost the capacity to stand. So-called "downer" animals should have been inspected again before entering the food supply, the government said.
The recall affects beef produced on various dates during a two-year period that ended Feb. 2, the government said.
The Humane Society of the United States provided video showing incapacitated animals at Westland/Hallmark being moved with forklifts. The company is being investigated for animal cruelty.
Ms. Pugh said the beef, identified by lot number, would have been used for hamburgers, meatballs or other cafeteria items. She said the district now is supplying school lunches with other beef, including some that may have come from Westland/Hallmark, but is not part of the recall.
A statewide list of schools and districts that received the possibly tainted beef wasn't available yesterday. A federal alert two weeks ago triggered a state-level review of schools, food processors and distributors that might have purchased meat through the government's National School Lunch Program.
"We started working with everyone in the chain to identify who had received the meat, what happened to it and where was it now," said Geoffrey Dunaway, director of the state Agriculture Department's Bureau of Food Distribution. "It took some time."
Places found to have product from the California processor were asked to keep it but to make sure it was separated from other items.
Now that a recall is underway, the USDA, state officials and the affected organizations will work together to determine what will be done with the product, said Mr. Dunaway.
Ms. Pugh left open the possibility that the government would declare it safe for consumption and allow its use.
Until yesterday, Mr. Dunaway said, he had not heard whether that product, included in the USDA's Emergency Food Assistance Program that distributes items to organizations such as the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, might be affected by the recall. He said more research would be needed to determine the impact on those groups.
The food bank last received meat through the emergency program in September, said Joyce Rothermel, the organization's chief executive officer. She noted that meat items tend to be used quickly.
Neither O'Hara grocer Giant Eagle nor Minnesota-based grocery distributor SuperValu, which supplies independent Shop 'n Save and Foodland stores, is affected by the recall, according to their spokespeople. A few customers have asked about it but not many, said a Giant Eagle spokesman.
In a statement on the company Web site, Westland/Hallmark President Steve Mendell said "our company has met the highest standards for harvesting and processing meat under the Federal Meat Inspection Act."
He said he was shocked by the video, taken by a former employee, and had taken "swift action" against two workers identified on the video. He and the company "have already implemented aggressive measures to ensure all employees follow our humane handling policies and procedures."
First Published February 19, 2008 12:00 am