Two weeks ago, the United States Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of frozen beef from Southern California-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, which is under investigation for alleged mistreatment of cattle.
Fortunately, UC Irvine students were unaffected by the USDA’s beef recall, according to Resident District Manger of Aramark Higher Education Robert Perez who oversees nearly all the food sold on campus. Perez manages every food venue on campus, including the restaurants in the East and West Food Courts and the dormitory community commons, with the exceptions of the Anthill Pub and Grill, the Rice Garden Asian Cuisine in the West Food Court and a handful of others.
Since the recall’s announcement, Perez has received e-mails from the food distribution company that delivers to the Aramark restaurants on campus, Systems and Services Company (SYSCO). The e-mails indicated which products are potentially dangerous and how to identify them. Perez complimented the system for its quick communication.
‘These e-mails have showed us what companies are affected by the recall,’ Perez said. ‘Luckily, we have not received any products from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company.’ Despite the e-mail alerts, Perez instructed the managers of campus restaurants under Aramark employment to manually check all beef products that have not been eaten. As a triple-check, Perez has the records of product purchased by Aramark on file and has personally checked for any sign of the recalled meat.
According to Perez, in the event of a recalled product, protocol sent by the meat distribution company dictates what action is taken. Typically this involves returning the recalled product to the delivery company or destroying the product and notifying them of the product’s destruction.
‘But we’ve never had contaminated product. If we were affected, we would pull it from the shelves and follow the recall guidelines the government wanted or guidelines from the state of California,’ Perez said.
The procedures for the destruction of Westland/Hallmark Meat Company’s recalled meat are available on its Web site and state that the product is to be incinerated, disposed of in a landfill or otherwise disposed for inedible rendering, and is ‘not intended for pet food.’
This recall is the largest beef recall in American history, surpassing the 1999 recall of 35 million pounds of meat. The USDA, a government regulatory body, classified the risk hazard as being ‘a health hazard situation where there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from the use of the product.’
The USDA instated the recall after an undercover video surfaced, showing crippled and ill cattle being shoved with forklifts at a plant owned by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company. Federal regulations call for keeping unhealthy or otherwise unfit cattle out of consumer markets because meat from such animals pose greater risk of infection from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease because they ‘typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak,’ according to the Associated Press.
Aramark is a private corporation providing a wide range of services to schools, businesses, hospitals and correctional facilities. These services include facilities management, uniforms and work apparel, food service and refreshments, and lodging and guest accommodations. Aramark contracted SYSCO for the food service provided to UCI.
SYSCO purchases products from a food conglomerate, such as ConAgra Foods, which owns many smaller companies that produce food products. These smaller companies purchase raw food materials from even smaller companies such as the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, which process the raw food in several plants. This hierarchy acts as a filter so that, when meat from one source (ConAgra) is contaminated and a recall is issued, the entire meat supply from that source is unaffected.
Scott Winterstein, the manager of the Anthill Pub and Grill, confirmed that the pub is ‘completely separate’ from the Aramark corporation. Nevertheless, the pub contracts SYSCO to deliver its food products, so if there was a problem with the food distributed by SYSCO to the Aramark restaurants, there is a chance it would affect the food served at the pub. Fortunately, there has been no issue with the food distributed by SYSCO.
‘In any case, we’ve received no word on the products we’ve purchased,’ Winterstein said.