Sacramento Hearing Held into Massive Beef Recall

At a hearing in Sacramento Monday, California school officials told lawmakers they're worried about the cost of replacing thousands of pounds of recalled beef. The National School Lunch Program purchased it from Westland Hallmark, the Chino company at the center of the largest beef recall in history. KPCC's Julie Small explains.

Julie Small: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef slaughtered at the Westland/Hallmark Meat plant in Chino. That's where workers allegedly violated food safety laws when they slaughtered cattle too sick to walk. The National School Lunch Program purchased 37 million pounds of beef from Westland. Some of it is still in school freezers and at processing plants. Now federal regulators are telling schools to destroy it. Phyllis Bramson-Paul heads nutrition services for California's education department. She says the agricultural agency will reimburse the districts for the cost of disposing the meat, but that could take a while.

Phyllis Bramson-Paul: They destroy it. They submit their invoices to us. We submit it to USDA, and then turn around and reimburse districts. We're looking at streamlining that and perhaps fronting the money ourselves, so that districts won't be as impacted from a cash flow standpoint.

Small: Bramson says there's another problem: about one-fifth of the food school districts had planned to serve students this year comes from Westland.

Bramson-Paul: What about reimbursement for the product, the beef, that they were planning to serve in their meals?

Small: That beef cost California schools hundreds of thousands of dollars. The USDA has told Bramson it's trying to get Congress to reimburse the expense. For now, some school districts have purchased new beef from commercial retailers. Others have taken beef off the menu.

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