USDA requests Ashland schools hold service on beef products

Lydia Tolley, general manager of the food service department for the Ashland School District, said the USDA contacted her and asked that all beef products be put on hold until it concludes its investigation into a Southern California meatpacking company.

School cafeterias in Oregon received more than 170,000 pounds of beef from the meatpacking company that was barred this week from supplying its product for school lunch programs.

Tolley also said Sodexho, the company which orders food for the district's lunch program, is also conducting its own investigation.

The action was taken as federal investigators look into video footage that showed workers at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. mistreating sick cows to force them into a slaughterhouse. The video was released by The Humane Society of the United States after a six-week undercover investigation,

USDA regulations and California law generally do not allow mistreatment of disabled animals. Federal regulations also call for keeping downed cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination, or mad cow disease.

Federal officials say there is no evidence the beef was unsafe, and Oregon officials say there have been no reports of sickened children.

Hallmark supplies the Westland Meat Co., which processes the carcasses. The facility is a major supplier to a USDA program that distributes beef to needy people and the National School Lunch Program. Westland has delivered beef to schools in Oregon and 35 other states.

Beverly Hassell, program analyst for Oregon's child nutrition programs, told The Oregonian newspaper that the state will help school officials identify any suspect meat that hasn't been served to schoolchildren. The cooked beef will be easy to find, because it was subsequently processed at Kings Command Foods in Kent, Wash. But the raw frozen beef will be difficult to identify until USDA officials provide lot numbers, she said.

"I think a lot of schools are going to be careful about serving ground beef until they learn exactly what is going on," said Gene Evans, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education.

Tolley said, "This is an important humane issue, but it's not a food safety issue."

Reach reporter Michele Mihalovich at 482-3456 x226 or .Staff and wire report

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