Peninsula school districts examine origin of beef in wake of state warning

Several school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula are among more than 100 districts statewide that have pulled beef from the menu in the wake of a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation.

Federal officials are looking into allegations that a large supplier of beef to the national school-lunch program used meat from downer cows those that cannot stand or walk.

Cape Flattery, Brinnon and Quilcene are the only public school districts in the North Olympic Peninsula listed by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction as having ordered beef from Westland Meat Co. of Chino, Calif., in November or December.

Port Angeles pulled beef from its menus even though it had confirmed that the meat served in the schools does not come from Westland.

Port Townsend and Chimacum school districts and the Quillayute Valley School District in Forks also pulled beef from their menus as a precaution, even though they were not listed by the state as potential recipients of the meat.

Crescent School District in Joyce is keeping beef on the menu after determining that its supply is safe, Superintendent Tom Anderson said Saturday

The supplier of the meat that has raised all of the concerns is not the supplier for most of the schools on the Peninsula, he said.

School districts in Washington state were notified Thursday to stop using any beef from Westland until further notice.

The state also notified a number of private schools and others that are part of federal food programs.

Concern after video

The concern arose after the release of a video that shows slaughterhouse workers at Hallmark Meat Packing using forklifts to prod or move animals.

Westland Meat, which grinds meat, gets meat from Hallmark.

The video, produced by the Humane Society of the United States, raised concerns about animal cruelty and whether meat from downer cows is being used in school lunches.

No health problems from Westland meat have been reported.

But nonambulatory cows may have a higher risk of being infected with mad-cow disease, E. coli and salmonella, according to the Humane Society.

Hallmark issued a statement Wednesday saying that it had taken immediate action to terminate two employees recorded in the video and has suspended their supervisor.

Notified by state

Cape Flattery School District was notified by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of its concerns late Thursday and has stopped serving beef, Superintendent Gene Laes said Saturday.

“We’re not serving the beef,” Laes said.

“We stopped serving meat at the schools as soon as we found out there was a concern over that suppler.

“The district has marked in red, Do not use on its four cases of hamburger patties.

We are serving chicken and turkey,” Laes said.

“The district will refrain from serving beef until it gets word that its safe, he said.

I think theyll bring resolution to this quickly.”

Err on side of caution

“The food service provider for Port Angeles and Sequim school districts, Sodexho Food Services, confirmed for us [Friday] that they do not buy from any of the suppliers that receive meat from the questionable slaughterhouse,” said Port Angeles Superintendent Gary Cohn.

But John Koch, food service director for the Port Angeles district, pulled beef from the menu anyway.

“I decided to err on the side of caution,” Koch said.

“We were not on their list of affected districts, but I made a decision Friday that were going to put all our beef on hold.”

Koch said that the district has revamped its menu for next week until everything gets sorted out, so we make sure that were serving healthy, wholesome products.

Sequim School District Superintendent Bill Bentley said there would be no need to change the menu, since the district does not buy beef from Westland.

“That’s not a supplier that we use at all, so we wouldnt have any of their product,” he said he was told by the districts food service director, Laurie Campen.

He had been out of town and did not know if Campen had ordered a change in the menu.

Campen did not return requests for information made to her phone on Saturday.

The Port Townsend and Chimacum school districts also have pulled beef from their menus until more information is known.

Mark Sperrazza, who is the food service director for both the Port Townsend and Chimacum school districts, will adjust the menus until we find out more about whats going on, Chimacum Superintendent Mike Blair said Saturday.

“The move to revamp the Port Townsend School District menus was made just as a precaution,” Superintendent Tom Opstad said.

“Sperrazza has stopped serving beef until he gets the lot numbers. It gives us time to look at the information.”

The Quillayute Valley School District in Forks also took a cautious approach.

“Just to be on the safe side, we went ahead and pulled the beef products, “Superintendent Diana Reaume said.

“We’ll look into it on Monday.”

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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