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Area schools not adversely affected by foods investigation

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

No problems have surfaced in area school district which have served beef products from a company being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last week, the USDA indefinitely suspended Westland Hallmark Meat Co. from supplying food to federal food and nutrition programs. The USDA is investigating possible inhumane handling of disabled cattle.

The Minnesota Department of Education stated Thursday that no illnesses have been reported in the state related to Westland's products and that there is no indication the products represent an increased health risk.

The Morris Area, Chokio-Alberta, Hancock and Cyrus school districts are among 374 Minnesota schools and organizations that likely received beef from Westland.

Hancock is among 120 that currently have Westland products in their inventory.

Lori Razink, the Hancock district's business manager, said the district food service has 15 cases of ground beef in its inventory, two of which are from Westland.

The Westland cases, which contain 10-pound tubes of frozen ground beef, have been marked and separated. State health officials have said they will inform districts what to do with the products, Razink said.

Morris Area Superintendent Scott Monson confirmed the department of health's research that while the district had used Westland products, the district did not have any in its inventory. The district has switched to a different supplier, he said.

"The good news is that nobody here or around the state got sick," Monson said. "It's an eye-opener for us. It's good (health officials) have this kind of oversight."

If impacted districts become aware of illness potentially related to this product, they are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Health immediately at: (651) 201-5414.   

The majority of the Westland beef that was sent to Minnesota was likely served to students before the USDA issued its advisory, according to the state Department of Education's Chas Anderson, a deputy commissioner.

Based on the information that has been gathered by the Minnesota Department of Education, approximately 60,000 pounds of the initial 240,000 pounds of Westland raw beef sent to Minnesota has not been used and has been isolated. 

The Department of Education has also been able to identify approximately 15,500 pounds of Westland beef that was delivered to Minnesota schools as processed products, including beef crumbles and hamburger patties. That identified product has also been isolated, Anderson stated.