By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
At least five cases of beef tied to a federal recall were already consumed in local schools before the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a warning, according to state officials.
However, the USDA has said the meat poses little to no risk to student’s health.
The USDA on Sunday ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of beef from a Southern California slaughterhouse that is the subject of an animal-abuse investigation.
Clovis schools reported two of 119 cases of ground beef it received from a federal program since October were consumed and Dora Schools reported using three of five cases, state officials said.
Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said school personnel have been in contact with state officials and have been assured there is no risk to students who may have already consumed the recalled meat.
“Our communications with the health division indicate that they don’t believe there is anything wrong with any of the meat and that this is strictly a precautionary measure,” she said Tuesday.
There have been no reported illnesses, she said.
Dora school officials could not be reached.
Elida, Floyd, Grady, Melrose and Texico also received the beef in question, according to the New Mexico Human Services Department.
Melrose and Grady did not use the recalled beef. Elida, Floyd and Texico schools have yet to report to the state, according to Betina Gonzales McCracken, communications director for the state’s Human Services Department.
Three shipments totaling 3,000 cases of the beef went to New Mexico schools; one in October, two in December, the state Human Services Department reported Tuesday.
According to the USDA, the recall was issued because of evidence the California operation slaughtered animals that were immobile due to illness or injury, which is a violation of federal law.
Federal regulations call for keeping downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of contamination from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease since they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak.
The meat was tested before distribution and showed no signs for concern, according to information on the USDA Web site.
Gonzales McCracken said the beef was delivered to 46 private and public school districts in New Mexico.
The New Mexico Human Services Department distributes food commodities to school and emergency programs, she said.
The USDA instructed Clovis school officials two weeks ago to shelve approximately 35 cases of ground beef as a precautionary measure, according to Seidenwurm.
“We got the notice … from the USDA that we had some ground beef that was on its way (and) they said store it, don’t do anything with it. They said they were investigating a few things,” Seidenwurm said.
“So that’s what we did with it, we put it in the freezer.”
Schools were warned not use the questionable beef as the USDA investigation developed, Gonzales McCracken said.
“We contacted all schools Feb. 1 and told them to put it on hold,” she said.
The USDA on Tuesday afternoon issued disposal instructions that lots of 50 cases or less can be destroyed on site while larger quantities must be disposed of at landfills, incinerated or sent to inedible rendering.
“Apparently we were given lots of heads up before the media got a hold of it and before the USDA condemned (the beef),” Seidenwurm said, explaining the schools have multiple suppliers and have not suffered for food without the beef.
The recall affects beef products dating to Feb. 1, 2006, that came from Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., the federal agency said. The company provided meat to various federal programs.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report
Local schools beef inventory as of Tuesday afternoon:
Clovis — Received 119 cases, have 117 left
Dora – Received 5, have 2 cases left
Elida — Received 3 cases, remainder not yet reported
Floyd — Received 6, remainder not yet reported
Grady — Received 3 cases, still have 3 cases
Melrose — Received 3 cases, have 3 cases
Portales — Not listed as a recipient
Texico — Received 3 cases, remainder not yet reported
Source: New Mexico Human Services Department