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Schools to destroy recalled beef

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By Ben Carlson

An estimated three-quarters of a ton of beef is scheduled to be destroyed Feb. 25 after school food service officials learned it was among millions of pounds recalled by the federal government.

Marsha Rogers, food service coordinator for Anderson County schools, confirmed Monday afternoon that students here were served the beef before it was recalled, but said schools stopped serving it around Feb. 1 when it was placed on administrative hold.

None of the students here became ill from the beef, she said.

"We take every precaution and food safety always comes first," said Rogers. "Any time we hear of a hold or recall, we immediately shut it down and weigh on the side of caution.

"People need to know that we are doing everything in our power to keep our kids safe."

The recall issued by the United States Department of Agriculture made national headlines Monday after an undercover video taken by the Humane Society showed cows being treated inhumanely by employees at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company in Chino, Calif.

The disturbing video showed workers shoving with forklifts, kicking, shocking and abusing "downer" animals that were too sick or weak to walk into the slaughterhouse, according to Associated Press reports.

Schools here are among about 150 school districts nationwide and 17 in Kentucky that received a portion of an estimated 37 million pounds of the meat, according to Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

The meat was distributed by the USDA as part of the National School Lunch Program.

Overall, the government ordered 143 million pounds of the beef recalled in what is being called the largest beef recall in U.S. history.

Rogers said the beef received here came in bulk, which the school district sends to a processor to turn it into items such as meatballs and hamburger patties.

Although the recall is for beef dating back to 2006, Rogers said this is the first year schools here have received beef for processing.

Rogers estimated that schools here had about 1,600 pounds of the frozen beef stored at each of the district's five cafeterias.

Rogers said Monday that she intended to destroy the beef the following day, but that was put on hold because officials with the health department were out of town and need to be present.

She said the plan now is to destroy the beef by taking it to a landfill Feb. 25.

"In the meantime, the meat has been quarantined," Rogers said.

Rogers said schools have several methods to destroy food that is no longer good, including taking it to a landfill, incinerating it or by dousing it with bleach.

Rogers said the recall is classified as stage 2, meaning it was triggered by inhumane treatment of animals. A stage 1 recall, she said, is issued during reports of E. coli or salmonella outbreaks.

Like here, there have been no national reports of people made ill by the beef.

Federal authorities reportedly said the most of the 37 million pounds distributed to school districts had already been consumed.

"We don't know how much product is out there right now. We don't think there is a health hazard," said Dr. Dick Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety told the Associated Press.

However, downer cattle may pose a higher risk of contamination from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease because their immune systems are often weak and they wallow in their own feces, according to an Associated Press report.