Schools' beef possibly tainted

COVINGTON - Newton County is one of the more than two dozen Georgia school districts that is affected by possibly tainted beef from a California slaughterhouse under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Georgia Department of Education announced Wednesday that 28 school districts in Georgia have pulled certain meat from its meal programs after the USDA alerted them that meat from Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, which is a major supplier to a USDA program that distributes beef to the National School Lunch Program, could be tainted.

"The beef on hold has been pulled and isolated from the rest of the school system's current supply of beef crumbles and is not being served to students. The NCSS Food Service Department uses every possible precaution to ensure that all food products served in our schools are safe," according to a press release from NCSS on Wednesday evening. "(NCSS) does not serve USDA raw beef products from any source in our schools. All beef products are fully cooked before they are ever delivered to the school system. Once at the school, beef crumbles are thoroughly heated again."

According to the Associated Press, the slaughterhouse is under investigation for mistreating animals.

"Federal officials are looking into whether the slaughterhouse shipped meat from disabled animals - known as "downer' cows because they are considered too sick or injured to walk," according to the Associated Press. "Federal regulations call for keeping downer cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination or mad cow disease."

Vernon Goins, public relations coordinator for the East Metro Heath District, said any sicknesses would be reported to EMHD, but it hasn't received any yet.

"We've got our ears to the ground," he said.

The Georgia Department of Education said the USDA notified its School Nutrition Program on Jan. 31 of the potentially dangerous beef.

"The GaDOE immediately notified our public school systems of the alert. The GaDOE also immediately began working with processing plants that use Westland meat in products that are sent to Georgia school systems," according to a press release from the GaDOE Wednesday afternoon. "Over the next several days, GaDOE received information - including lot numbers - from three processing plants about products that may have contained meat from Westland."

More than two dozen school systems said they have some of the lot numbers in their stock.

"There is no evidence at this point that any tainted meat was sent to a Georgia school system," according to the press release from the GaDOE.

Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in the release that USDA officials won't know if the meat is actually tainted until Feb. 19, when the investigation is scheduled to be finished.

"Until then, we are using an abundance of caution," the GaDOE press release reads. "Also, we have received no reports of food-borne illness at our schools either. As we get more information, we will notify our school systems and the public."

NCSS will use alternative products from its food vendor until the "all clear" is given.

"There is no need to change school menus unless the district is notified that alternative items cannot be delivered prior to the menu date," the NCSS press release reads. "We have not removed any items from school menus and continue to serve products that are not on the list of "On Hold lot numbers."

NCSS said it is possible some of the beef "may have been used" prior to being notified by the USDA.

Other states that have banned Westland meat include Idaho, South Dakota, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Iowa and Washington state.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.