How recalled beef will be destroyed is at issue

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | 5:08 p.m. CST; updated 11:56 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture passed down guidelines on the destruction of recalled beef that has been found in Columbia public schools. State officials, however, prefer a different method.

Meanwhile, the Columbia Public School District is assuring parents there was only a possibility that students ate the tainted meat.

USDA protocol called for individual school districts to destroy and dispose of the meat in accordance with safe procedures set forth by local health agencies.

Karen Wooton, director of food services for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said she would rather the state handle the destruction of the meat.

“We are hoping to pick up all the product and destroy it in a central location,” Wooton said. “We are hoping that local school districts will not have that responsibility.”

The Agriculture Department also said all the beef should be destroyed by the end of February, but, again, the state disagrees.

“It will take longer than that,” Wooton said. In Columbia Public Schools alone, 5,670 pounds of recalled beef remain and must be destroyed.

Wooton raised this issue during a regional conference call with Agriculture Department officials Wednesday morning. She wasn’t alone, she said.

“A lot of states had an issue with that deadline,” Wooton said.

Depending on whether the state destroys the meat or the Columbia Public School District does it, the method of destruction may change slightly.

“One option we’ve heard is to put ammonia on the meat and put it in a landfill,” Wooton said.

If the destruction is left to the district, then the Columbia/Boone County Health Department might be called on to assist.

“Anytime we embargo anything we would want it to go to the landfill,” said Gerry Worley, environmental health administrator for the Health Department. “Typically, we would go with the truck to the landfill and watch it being buried.”

Worley said this ensures the meat isn’t removed from a dumpster and used.

He said additional preparations of the meat don’t appear necessary. The meat was recalled to prevent any exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, but he was told that there was almost no risk of contamination.

“There have been no reported incidents from eating this meat,” Worley said.

Also on Wednesday, Columbia Public Schools said there is now little way of knowing whether the recalled beef was served to students.

A February meat shipment to the school district contained 228 cases of beef that have since been recalled. Thirty-eight cases of that beef were sent to schools before the Agriculture Department placed a hold on it two-and-a-half weeks ago. Laina Fullum, director of nutritional services, said the 38 cases delivered to schools were probably part of a mixed shipment.

The lot numbers, or identification numbers, of the remaining cases in the district’s central warehouse matched those involved in the recall, but there is a possibility that some or all of the cases sent to schools were not involved.

“We don’t know if the whole lot was the meat in question,” Fullum said.

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