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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where was the suspect beef? Sent to some area schools

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Fourteen school districts statewide received beef that has been recalled following allegations of animal abuse at California slaughterhouse Westland Meat Co.
The recall hit the state’s largest urban school districts: New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. Meat also was pulled from Cheshire, West Haven, Chester, Essex, Glastonbury, Groton, New London, Norwich, Region 14, Simsbury and Waterbury.
There have been no reports of illness resulting from the meat.
Westland had been one of the top beef suppliers to the National School Lunch Program, and officials estimate that 37 million of the 143 million pounds of recalled beef went to school lunches.
Madeleine Diker, director of food and nutrition services for Cheshire, said six cases of the recalled beef have been destroyed.Another eight cases of beef were marked for Cheshire, but never arrived from the school’s New Haven-based distributor before the recall.
But a case and a half of beef was consumed by students and staff at the Cheshire High School since an Oct. 30 shipment, Diker said.
West Haven Superintendent of Schools JoAnn Hurd Andrees said the recalled meat has been isolated. With most school staff on vacation, she did not know how much has already been eaten or how much had been shipped to the school. “It was fully cooked meat fortunately. None of the meat was raw,” she said.
New Haven school spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said city schools received a “small amount of pressed beef product that had already been cooked and processed.” The meat already had been tested for bacteria at the processing plant, she said, and there have been no reports of illness. The beef was pulled in early February.
The USDA ordered the recall Sunday based on Humane Society footage revealing Westland employees kicking, shocking and abusing “downer” cows too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Meat from such cows presents a higher risk of E. coli and salmonella, and it is banned from distribution under federal law.
Federal officials have suspended operations at Westland, and two former employees were arrested Friday on animal cruelty charges.
Federal lawmakers, including U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, are currently pushing for a national investigation into meat safety in public schools. DeLauro Tuesday called for the USDA to be stripped of its responsibility for food safety.
“Food safety ought to be of a high enough priority in this nation that we have a single agency that deals with it and not an agency that is responsible for promoting a product, selling a product and then as an afterthought dealing with how our food supply is safe,” DeLauro said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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