Sunday, March 02, 2008

FINDING THE BEEF - Recalled meat collected from schools

by Airan Scruby, Staff Writer - Whittier Daily News

Staff Photo by Raul Roa

03/02/2008 - PICO RIVERA - Much of the recalled beef sold to Los Angeles schools has been returned to a district warehouse in Pico Rivera, after the schools pulled all beef from their menus and issued notices to parents.

Nearby districts in the area were also affected by the recall.

Schools statewide were ordered to stop serving food that could have been contaminated with beef produced by Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino and many were ordered to destroy the product. The beef had been sold and distributed through the National School Lunch Program.

"This is a Class Two recall, which means there was no verified sickness," said Rochelle Abramovitz, Los Angeles County chief environmental health specialist.

"It was just the way they treated the cows."

School districts began gathering and destroying ground beef and products containing it after a United States Department of Agriculture investigation uncovered violations of Food Safety and Inspection Service guidelines at the Chino meat packing company.

On Feb. 17, the company voluntarily recalled 143 million pounds of beef.

While the meat was not considered unsafe for consumption, the company had been accused of bringing "downer cows," those too sick or injured to stand, to slaughter.

School districts with less than 50 of the 40-pound cases of product were allowed to dispose of the meat themselves by burning, compacting or dissolving the materials in bleach. Those with

more were required to arrange for the waste to be deposited at the Puente Hills Landfill.

Shipments from schools, restaurants and markets to the landfill began Feb. 24, Sanitation Districts Division Engineer Pat Freemon said, and so far more than 120,000 pounds have been delivered.

Dennis Barrett, director of food services for Los Angeles Unified School District, said his district collected about 155,000 pounds of beef and packaged food items containing beef that was recalled.

"We've been going by and making sure we're bringing the beef back to one location," Barrett said. "We've got all the beef in as of yesterday, and we're going to do a double-check."

That location, the LAUSD Stores and Foods Warehouse, has been operating on Rex Road in Pico Rivera since 2003. The 400,000-square-foot building has a staff of about 175 and holds everything from frozen burritos to office supplies, to be shipped to schools in the district as needed.

According to Marc Monforte, deputy branch director of purchasing at the warehouse, staff is doing a final accounting and preparing to send materials to the Puente Hills Landfill.

"We're looking at approximately seven to 10 days in terms of actually going to the landfill," Monforte said. "We're just looking at logistics in terms of the disposal."

LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said she could not give a cost to the district for the recall because totals had not yet been tallied.

LAUSD was not the only district to contend with recalled beef. Montebello Unified School District was also found to have beef affected by the recall, Nutrition Services Director Victoria Cheung said.

Cheung said her district has about 44,000 pounds of recalled ground beef, which was deposited in the Puente Hills Landfill on Thursday. The district lost $6,000 in processing and disposal costs, and about $150,000 in the actual cost of the meat.

"We don't know if they're going to or how they're going to reimburse or replace that beef," Cheung said.

Beef sent to El Rancho Unified School District and Norwalk/La Mirada School District also had been destroyed after officials heard about the recall.

Those districts had a relatively small amount of beef, and so both were allowed to dispose of the waste themselves.

Other area districts took precautions by holding all beef products until further notice. Some, like Whittier City School District, will not serve beef until the end of this month.

"It's just until all the commotion has died and we know that this product is a good product," said Food Service Director Cristina Obergon.

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