U.S.D.A. provides details on Hallmark/Westland recall

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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WASHINGTON — During a technical briefing held Feb. 21, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials addressed questions from the press about its investigation of animal welfare violations and the subsequent recall of 143 million lbs of ground beef produced at the Hallmark/Westland meat packing company.

Dr. Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator, office of field operations with the U.S.D.A. Food Safety and Inspection Service, iterated that the practices depicted on undercover video at the Hallmark/Westland plant is not typical of the industry and was not likely the norm even at the Hallmark slaughtering facility. He said the fact the animals all had passed anti-mortem inspection just prior to when the footage was taken indicates the incidents of downers was indeed, a "rare situation."

He also said public concern about the safety of the meat should be tempered by the fact that the U.S. utilizes a multi-hurdle approach to preventing pathogens in products and keeping bovine spongiform encephalopathy out of the food supply. Dr. Petersen said the downer cattle at Hallmark/Westland were not likely displaying symptoms of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but even if they were, all of the specified risk materials were removed from the suspect carcasses.

"Underpinning all of this is that it is really not a health-related issue. It is a Class II recall," he said, adding that any chance of the animals being B.S.E. positive was a "very, very remote probability."

Meanwhile, officials continue identifying and tracking down the recalled products, some of which was distributed to public schools throughout the country. Eric Steiner, associate administrator for Special Nutrition Programs, U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service, said that of the approximately 143 million lbs of product recalled, an estimated 50.3 million lbs were distributed as part of the national school lunch program. Of that 50.3 million lbs, 19.6 million were consumed; 15.2 million has been identified and is on hold; and 15.5 million is still being traced.

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