Two school districts in California recently served potentially contaminated meat to schoolchildren, according to KGET in Bakersfield.

According to the local news station, Tejon School District in Lebec and Frazier Park and Bearsley School DIstrict in Oildale, California each served pre-cooked and packaged burritos on the recall list in their cafeterias just days before the recall was announced.

girl-eating-burger.jpgThe meat in question was part of an expanded recall recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) over E. coli O157:H7 concerns.

FSIS announced in mid-February it was adding 4.9 million pounds of beef and veal products to the mid-January recall of 864,000 pounds of meat processed by southern California-based Huntington Meat Packing, Inc.

Huntington is not a supplier to the National School Lunch Program, according to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the agency at USDA charged with running the federal nutrition programs.

In this case, the school districts purchased the meat in the commercial market, explained FNS spokeswoman Jean Daniel.

“We’re doing what we do for all recalls, whether they are USDA products or not,” added Daniel. “We alert the states and they roll the information down the rapid response system.” 

Though there have been no reports of illness from children or staff who ate the recalled products, the incident raises concerns about the safety mechanisms in place to prevent contaminated food from reaching school lunch trays.

“This is another reason why mandatory recall authority is important,” said Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P), a non-profit dedicated to preventing foodborne illness. “Recall authority would help get information out earlier.”

According to Rosenbaum, there have been several occasions where recalled products have made it to schools. Rosenbaum said S.T.O.P. is “very concerned” about the slow trickle of recall information to schools.

“You trust the system to deliver safe food kids,” added Rosenbaum, who said it was unacceptable for the system to have lag time in relaying formation to school districts.

According to public health officials, the Huntington recall was expanded based on evidence collected in an ongoing criminal investigation involving the packing plant.

“The investigation has uncovered evidence to show that the food safety records of the establishment cannot be relied upon to document compliance with the requirements. Therefore, FSIS must consider the products to be adulterated and has acted to remove the products from commerce,” said the agency in its release.

The recalled meat was sold in 10, 20 and 50 pound boxes to distribution centers, restaurants, and hotels in California between January 4 and January 22, 2010. The products all bear the establishment number “EST. 17967” within the USDA inspection label.

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime advocate for more stringent food regulation, said earlier this month that the expanded recall illustrates the need for tougher enforcement.

“This recall dispels the notion that the meat industry can police itself to ensure the safety of meat products,” said DeLauro. “This is a company that failed to follow the food safety plan that it developed and may have knowingly produced meat products under unsanitary conditions.  Those products were then sold for consumption over a period of 347 days.”

“This is unacceptable and we should not allow companies to operate under this kind of regulatory regime,” added DeLauro.