Beef recall affects local school districts

Local students are seeing school menus change as the fallout from the largest meat recall in U.S. history continues.

Two weeks ago, Chino, Calif.-based Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., after a series of undercover investigations, was made the subject of a USDA probe to see if their meat-packing and animal-treatment practices were unhealthy.

Scrutiny was placed on the plant's practice, confirmed by the government, of putting "downer" or sick cows (those too injured or unhealthy to stand), into the nation's food supply.

Normally, a USDA veterinarian is assigned to slaughterhouses to make sure each downer cow is not diseased - a process that did not take place, according to undercover footage shot by the Humane Society.

In the wake of the reports, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said, "Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection, Food Safety and Inspection Service has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall."

About a quarter of the estimated 143 million pounds of recalled meat was sent to schools and federal nutrition programs in 36 states - including Nevada.

"We originally got our notice that there was a problem on Jan. 31 a little after 9 a.m.," said Millie Andrews, director of nutritional services for the Lyon County School District. "They originally told us to mark certain meat we got from (Westland) and they asked us to take an inventory of what we had.

"The following day, more things were added to the (contaminated) list. All the meat's been marked and we're waiting to find out what's going to be done. Nobody's been sick, however."

Andrews said chances are the company will dispose of the meat or let local school district officials know the proper way to dispose of it themselves.

In the meantime, school menus have been altered, she said.

"No, our kids aren't all vegetarian yet," Andrews joked. "But we've had to make some menu changes during this time.

"It's been interesting and some (menu standards) are not available."

Carson City School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Pierczynski confirmed Tuesday her district also has quarantined meat for eventual disposal.

"We have not destroyed the product but it's certainly marked for no-use," she said. "We've not had any illness, not had any children become sick.

"We're waiting for directions on the meat's (disposal) and we'd like to get a refund for any money we spent on the commodities. It's a money issue as well."

In the weeks following the initial meat scare, activists have encouraged parents, teachers and volunteers of local school districts to contact legislators and encourage them to find an alternative in school lunches to simply providing just the baseline food supply to students.

The current criteria for obtaining contracts to supply beef to the National School Lunch Program is lowest price regardless of how many previous safety violations the facility has been cited.

Local school nutrition experts agree the meat scare may be a wake-up call for state and federal governments to revisit the merits of current school lunch programs.

Andrews said most of the school districts in Northern Nevada get food through a state commodity program in Reno.

"Part of what the (food) commodities is for is to help the program be able to function," she said. "One of the things we've been pushing the government to do is meet wellness guidelines.

"The government started a wellness program, but what we're able to offer doesn't always meet those guidelines."

Area school district officials said they hoped the beef earmarked for disposal would be eradicated by week's end.

Fast-food chains who purchased beef from Westland/Hallmark include California-based Jack In the Box and In-N-Out.


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