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School systems prepare to destroy recalled beef

LAWRENCEVILLE - School district officials in Gwinnett and Barrow counties are awaiting instructions on how to destroy products that contain beef processed at a California slaughterhouse that violated federal food safety regulations.

An undercover video released by the Humane Society of the United States showed employees of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company tortured nonambulatory cows in an attempt to force the crippled or sick animals to walk to slaughter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began an investigation in late January into the plant's operations and immediately ordered a hold on products containing beef processed at the slaughterhouse.

Although there is no indication the meat is tainted, the USDA has announced more than 143 million pounds of beef that came from the plant is being recalled. About 378,000 pounds of that had been purchased by 37 school systems in Georgia, including Gwinnett County Public Schools and Barrow County Schools, according to the state Department of Education.

An investigation found the slaughterhouse during the past two years did not consistently contact a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service public health veterinarian when cattle became disabled after passing a preslaughter screening, which current regulations require, according to a news release.

The recall has been designated as Class II because of the remote possibility that the beef being recalled would cause adverse health effects if consumed, a news release states. Nonambulatory, or "downed," cattle have a higher risk of carrying diseases, including E. coli, Salmonella and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease.

"I am dismayed at the inhumane handling of cattle that has resulted in the violation of food safety regulations at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said in a news release. "It is extremely unlikely that these animals were at risk for BSE because of the multiple safeguards; however, this action is necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations."

Gwinnett County Public Schools spokesman Jorge Quintana said the cases of food containing the recalled beef are being taken to a central location. District officials are waiting for further instruction on how to destroy the product.

After the USDA announced the hold, school district officials notified all of the cafeterias to stop serving products with the beef processed by the slaughterhouse, specifically taco filling and rotini with meat sauce, Quintana said. Some of the beef may have been consumed before the hold was announced, he said.

Barrow County Schools is waiting for instruction on what to do with its four cases of hamburger patties, said Roy Morgan, the assistant superintendent for district services. None of the product has been served to students, he said.

The state Department of Education said there have been no reports of illnesses in its school districts related to the school lunch program.

School systems will receive a reimbursement for the cost of destroying the beef as long as they follow USDA guidelines. It is unclear if they will be reimbursed for the cost of the destroyed food.

Beef is still being served in school cafeterias, as several different vendors are used to obtain the products.

SideBar: Beef recall

The following systems have notified the Georgia Department of Education that they have some products containing the recalled beef:

Atlanta City

Barrow County

Bartow County

Carroll County

Carrollton City

Cartersville City

Cherokee County

Clayton County

Cobb County

Coffee County

Dalton City

Decatur County

DeKalb County

Fannin County

Floyd County

Forsyth County

Fulton County

Gordon County

Grady County

Griffin-Spalding County

Gwinnett County

Jackson County

Lamar County

Marion County

Murray County

Muscogee County

Newton County

Paulding County

Pickens County

Richmond County

Tift County

Ware County

The following systems purchased products containing beef from Hallmark/Westland but reported having none of the products left:

Berrien County

Lowndes County

Marietta City

Oconee County

Wilkinson County

Source: Georgia Department of Education