Columbia schools disposing of recalled meat

The meat had been used in Columbia public school lunches.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 | 12:10 p.m. CST; updated 11:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public School District was one of an estimated 156 school districts in the state to receive meat not fit for consumption, but the surrounding districts in Boone County did not.

Columbia students may have eaten as much as 1,100 pounds of the beef that has since been recalled. The school district, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there is little health risk posed to children who ate the tainted meat.

Sturgeon and Harrisburg schools, the two other school districts in Boone County to receive meat in the National School Lunch Program, apparently avoided the beef.

“We’re not aware of any that we have,” said Dick Davis, superintendent of Harrisburg schools. “We had an alert a couple of weeks ago and had to return some.”

Three of the six county districts contract their food services to Chesterfield-based Opaa! Food Management Inc. Hallsville schools have contracted with Opaa! for more than 15 years. Southern Boone County and Centralia schools signed an agreement before the 2004-05 school year.

Scott Hoffman, spokesman for Opaa!, said that the company had not distributed bad beef.

“We do not have any of the meat,” Hoffman said.

Opaa! was informed by the Education Department of the recall.

“Anyone who receives commodities would have heard from (the Education Department),” Hoffman said.

Commodity beef is farmer’s surplus meat that the federal government subsidizes and enters into the school lunch program.

Columbia Public Schools is awaiting instructions on what to do with the remaining 189 cases, or 5,670 pounds, of recalled meat. Those instructions should come after a morning conference call between the Education Department and the Agriculture Department. Columbia schools should receive instructions of the recall after the conference.

Two weeks ago, the state Education Department called the school district to inform it of a hold the Agriculture Department placed on commodity beef that state schools received as part of the National School Lunch Program.

Sunday, the federal agency officially ordered a recall of that beef.

Laina Fullum, director of nutritional services for the school district, said that before the hold was placed, the district used 19 cases of the spaghetti sauce meat and 18 cases of taco meat. No beef related to the recall has been used since the hold was placed, and it is being held in a central storage facility.

The school district cannot safely handle and prepare raw ground beef, so it gets processed meat from a distributor.

“It’s pre-cooked,” Fullum said.

“They’re probably going to come around, take it and destroy it,” Fullum said of the possible fate of the meat.

Karen Wooton, director of the state Education Department’s food services, said she estimated that 156 public and private school districts in Missouri received the recalled beef.

Wooton said an official count of schools would be available after the department called all of the school districts that potentially received the meat and confirmed the lot numbers on the cases of beef.

“We’re still working with schools,” Wooton said.

Wooton said that four distributors in the state had processed the meat from the Chino, Calif.-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. Those distributors were Advance Food Company, King’s Command Foods Inc., JTM and Pierre.

Nationally, 143 million pounds of beef were recalled after footage of animal abuse at the California slaughterhouse surfaced. Those animals, which were “downed,” or too sick or weak to walk, were slaughtered and processed.

Federal regulations require that non-ambulatory animals be removed from the population because they pose a greater risk of contamination, such as E. coli and salmonella.

Federal officials said during the recall that they had no reason to believe that this meat was contaminated and the health risk was small.

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