Central Valley

Valley schools stopped using recalled meat

Several Valley school lunch programs have stopped using beef from a Southern California slaughterhouse that is under federal investigation, school officials said Sunday.

Federal officials on Sunday ordered a recall of 143 million pounds of beef produced by Westland/Hallmark Meat. Co. in the nation's largest beef recall. The Chino company supplied meat to federal food and nutrition programs, including school lunch programs in 36 states.

Fresno, Visalia and Madera school district officials said they learned of the federal investigation Jan. 30 and immediately stopped using Westland products.

"As soon as we were notified, [the meat] was put on hold," Fresno Unified spokeswoman Susan Bedi said Sunday.

At Visalia Unified, thousands of pounds of Westland beef continue to sit in freezers. The district received the meat free of charge from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Any beef that we've served since that hold ... we've made sure that it wasn't from [Westland]," said Lynnelle Grumbles, Visalia Unified's director of nutritional services.

But replacing the meat wasn't easy, she said.

The district had to shell out about $15,000 to $18,000 of its own money to replace the beef that was supposed to be used this month, she said. The meat is used for tacos, teriyaki burgers and meatball sandwiches served to students.

"It's been very difficult," Grumbles said. "Now, we have to go and purchase that meat. Before, it was free."

She said it's not clear whether the district will be reimbursed.

What's also not clear is what will happen to the meat that continues to sit in freezers, Grumbles said.

At Madera Unified, no one has reported ill effects from eating the beef, "but when the USDA told us to put a hold on that product, we're certainly going to do that," district spokesman Jake Bragonier said.

Clovis Unified is not affected by the recall because the district does not use Westland meat, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.

Federal officials ordered operations suspended at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. earlier this month after the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts.

The recall was ordered after U.S. Department of Agriculture officials determined the meat was unfit for human consumption because the cattle did not receive a complete inspection prior to slaughter.

Federal officials said the potential risk of contracting E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease from the affected cows is likely small.

No illnesses have been linked to the recalled meat, officials said.