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Schools destroying recalled meat

Merced County school districts have begun destroying cases of frozen beef from the Chino slaughterhouse under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for animal abuse.

At least 11 of the 21 school districts received meat that came from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. and was distributed by the state as part of the National School Lunch Program, according to the Department of Education.

The list, which is preliminary and has been revised since it was posted three days ago, doesn’t include districts that received meat through their contracted food suppliers.

No illnesses have been linked to the recalled meat, and officials said the health threat was likely small.

At some districts, cases of the beef remain set aside in freezers because cafeteria supervisors are away since schools are out for the week. Other districts, like Merced City School District, destroyed their supply immediately.

A truck hauled nearly 200 cases Thursday morning to the county dump, where they were buried to ensure that nobody tried to eat the beef, said Terri Soares, district director of school nutrition services and warehouse.

“We will only be serving beef that’s allowable by the USDA,” she said.The beef was worth more than $30 a case, and it cost about $350 to bury it. Both expenses will be reimbursed by the federal government, she said.

Federal officials told school districts to put the suspect meat aside earlier this month ago because of the investigation into the Southern California slaughterhouse.

The Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video from the plant showing crippled and sick animals being rammed with forklifts to get them to stand up.

Animals too sick to walk to the slaughterhouse are not allowed to be processed for human consumption because there’s higher risk that they have E. Coli, salmonella or Mad Cow disease because they’re lying in feces and their immune systems are often weak.

The USDA announced Sunday that 143 million pounds spanning two years of processing from the meat slaughterhouse needed to be recalled because it was unfit for the dinner table.

On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Administrator Eric Steiner said that 50 million pounds of the beef went to the federal lunch program. Of that, nearly 20 million pounds have been consumed, and 15 million pounds have been put aside. Another 15 million pounds are being tracked down, he said.

Officials at UC Merced and Merced College said they didn’t receive any of the recalled beef.Merced Union High School District had six cases of the meat from Hallmark/Westland and will soon dispose of it, Deputy Superintendent Diane Hockersmith said.

“We were lucky,” she noted.

The recall affected about a third of the Merced City School District’s beef supply, the rest of which will start being cooked again next week, Soares said.

After learning of the investigation, school cooks substituted other meats for the beef.

“I didn’t hear too many complaints,” Soares said. “The middle school did get tired of not having their burgers.”

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at 209-385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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