Slaughterhouse at Center of Beef Recall

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Federal officials are investigating the largest meat recall in American history -- 143 million pounds of beef that came from crippled and sick cattle.

Officials are trying to find out if any of that meat is still headed for school lunches and how much is still in the food supply.

The video that prompted the recall shows shocking scenes: Cows that are too sick to walk being beaten, hosed down, shoved, and in some cases, shocked to pass inspection at a California slaughterhouse, Westland-Hallmark Meat Company.

The images have resulted in felony animal cruelty charges against some of the workers and the recall of millions of pounds of beef.

And they have some critics pointing fingers at the Department of Agriculture.

"It's clear that USDA's system failed and it allowed this company to engage in long term inhumane practices," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, a representative of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The company suspended operations since the beginning of February.

But the recall includes meat that dates back two years.

Federal officials say most of it has already been eaten and some 37 million pounds went to school lunch programs.

Federal law bans beef from "downer cattle" -- animals that are too sick to walk -- from the food supply as a safeguard against E Coli, salmonella, and "mad cow" disease.

But the head of the Department of Agriculture says the risks to American consumers is minor, saying it's "extremely unlikely" that any of the animals were at risk themselves to disease.

Safety inspectors say the meat is "unfit for human consumption" because Westland-Hallmark violated health regulations by not contacting veterinarians to check on the sick animals.

The undercover video was released by the Humane Society.

Two former employees of the meat company now face charges ranging from felony and misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

Prosecutors say more could follow.

So far, more than 100 school districts and two major fast food chains have stopped using ground beef from the company. No cases of reported illness have been linked to the beef.

Tips on Meat Safety:

The recalled beef was not sold in grocery stores, but there are precautions you should take at home to make sure your meat is safe to eat.

The USDA recommends cooking or freezing ground beef within two days of purchase.

Fozen beef should be safe for up to four months and kept cold when defrosing it. 

Also, thaw meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter, and buy a meat thermometer.

The suggested internal temperature to destroy bacteria in ground beef is 160 degrees.

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