Schools Scramble Menus After Big Beef Recall

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The largest beef recall in U.S. history has sent school districts scrambling to clean out their freezers and shake up their menus. Melissa block talks with Marsha Metzger, nutrition director for the Fort Wayne Community School District.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Thirty-seven million pounds - that's how much of the 143 million pounds of beef from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company that was recalled on Sunday - had already been sent to federal nutrition programs including the School Lunch Program. The largest beef recall in U.S. history has sent many school districts scrambling to clean out their freezers and change their menus.

Marsha Metzger is nutrition director for the Fort Wayne, Indiana Community School District. And she joins us now.

And, Ms. Metzger, how much of this recalled beef do you have there in Fort Wayne?

MARSHA METZGER: We have a little over 1,100 cases.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. Eleven hundred cases would be how many pounds?

METZGER: Fourteen thousand pounds.

BLOCK: Fourteen thousand pounds. And how do you go about this? Somebody actually has to go through every freezer, every warehouse, and look at these packages to figure out if it was from this packing company in California from this time period?

METZGER: Yes, somebody does. And that took about a day and a half.

BLOCK: And then was it clear what you had to do with that beef, did you get clear instructions on that?

METZGER: The instructions were that - as of January 30, that it was on administrative hold. So the instructions was simply to hold the beef. We sent instructions out from this office that they were to mark the cases in red and indicate that they were on hold - do not use.

BLOCK: And then the recall came later.

METZGER: And then the recall came on the 17th.

BLOCK: Well, what kind of a wrench that does throw into you planning?

METZGER: It throws a wrench in the menu planning, or at least, I should say, the menu execution. The menu's already been planned. Ironically enough, as we were discussing it, we realized that one product was scheduled for the menu that day. And it became a little bit exciting around here.

BLOCK: Oh, my goodness, the day of the recall.

METZGER: The day of the administrative hold that - in January 30. So we had to, literally, pull some product off the serving line before the lunch line started.

BLOCK: What was on the menu that day that had to be pulled off?

METZGER: Mini Twin Cheeseburgers.

BLOCK: Mini Twin Cheeseburgers, and a lot of them I bet.

METZGER: Yes. We generally serve about 12.000 students, varying amounts. So that was probably an item that 8,000 students would have selected. So that was pulled and we used various items coming forth on the menu in the next few days, like cheese pizza, and some peanut butter and jelly. That old standby.

BLOCK: Now, what do you do with all those thousands of cheeseburgers once they've been recalled and pulled off of the trays?

METZER: Well, those that had already been cooked had to be destroyed, and we documented all of that. The ones that had not yet been cooked were returned to the cases marked, and we still has them in freezers in out secondary schools at those sites that have kitchens. And at least a thousand of them here at the nutrition center.

BLOCK: With big, red tape all over them, I'm sure.

METZGER: With markings of red and then they're on the top shelf of our paletted(ph) freezer, and cordoned off.

BLOCK: When you say you had to destroy the cooked cheeseburgers, what do you do to destroy them?

METZGER: Those get thrown into trash and/or compactors and garbage disposals that day. Then we've not done anything but hold the rest of those items.

BLOCK: You know, the Department of Agriculture is saying that a lot of this product would've already been consumed. You must know that a lot of your students would've already eaten this beef that's now been recalled.

METZGER: The - since they put the recall back to January of '06, yes.

BLOCK: Now, how does that make you feel? As the nutrition director there, that's got to be a troubling thing, I would think.

METZGER: It is a troubling thing to think that we have inspected meat plants and yet, this happens. But we don't live in perfect world either. Generally speaking, our food supply is one of the safest in the world and I think we have to keep things in perspective.

BLOCK: Well, Marsha Metzger, it's good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

METZGER: Mm-hmm. Bye.

BLOCK: Marsha Metzger is nutrition director for the Fort Wayne, Indiana Community School District.

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