DOC has beef with Rifle prison for serving tainted meat
The state Department of Corrections is continuing to investigate how beef tainted with E. coli ended up being served at the Rifle Correctional Center and two other state prisons.
The investigation is aimed partly at determining what disciplinary action might be warranted, but primarily at preventing a repeat incident.
“That’s something we are committed to fixing, and making sure that does not happen again,” said DOC spokesperson Alison Morgan.
No one became sick from eating the meat. Prison authorities say that’s due to following a policy of cooking it above 160 degrees, which is deemed high enough to kill E. coli.
Disciplinary action is most likely in the case of the Buena Vista prison, in which Morgan said it appears that kitchen staff served the tainted beef despite knowing it had been contaminated and recalled by ConAgra, the meat supplier.
Morgan said knowingly serving contaminated beef was contrary to DOC policy.
“It was not the appropriate decision to make,” she said.
The Denver Post has reported that the warden in Buena Vista authorized serving the meat, but Morgan said the DOC is still looking into whether that is the case.
Officials were not aware at Rifle or a prison in Delta that the meat they served was contaminated, Morgan said.
The investigation focus at those facilities is centered on whether proper procedures were followed for trying to avoid serving recalled food, and how those procedures can be improved.
“Right now it’s under investigation as to how we became aware of the recall, when we became aware of the recall, what actions were taken to try to check our allotment (of meat), and working from there,” said Morgan.
“It’s very premature to talk about disciplinary action when we’re still in the investigatory stage.”
A big goal for the DOC is “to implement a policy that when recalls do occur we have the ability to check all commodities systemwide,” she said.
The tainted meat was served at the 192-bed Rifle facility July 23 as part of a breakfast of creamed beef on toast.
Rifle and Delta also served a ground beef lunch on July 20 that contained contaminated beef, said Morgan.
ConAgra Beef Co., based in Greeley, Colo., recalled almost 19 million pounds of beef July 19 over concerns it was tainted with E. coli.
At least 34 cases of E. coli illness nationwide reportedly may be linked to the ConAgra recall, including 22 cases in Colorado.
All of the prison food served by the DOC – about $169 million worth every year – is routed through its warehouse in Canon City.
The DOC’s latest purchase of ground beef from a ConAgra vendor consisted of about 36,000 pounds. By the time the DOC became aware of the recall, 21,000 pounds of the beef had been consumed, said Morgan.
However, only 220 pounds of the original 36,000 pounds of meat had been recalled for possible contamination, she said.
About 5,200 pounds of ConAgra meat had been transferred to Rifle, Delta and Buena Vista, and half of it consumed, by the time the DOC learned of the recall, said Morgan.
The DOC has since ordered that all 16,000 pounds of beef products in state prisons be returned to wholesalers because that was deemed the simplest way of preventing any confusion and ensuring no more contaminated beef is served.
The DOC deals with about 100 recalls a year, said Morgan. The agency is looking at how it tracks lot numbers, so recalled meat isn’t unknowingly served. The goal is to be able to respond to recalls not only at the Canon City warehouse, but also at individual prisons.
“We want to make sure that the checks happen all along the way,” she said.
Although contaminated meat slipped through the DOC system this summer, Morgan said the DOC’s record of preventing foodborne illness among inmates is a strong one.
Any such illnesses have to be reported to state health officials.
“Systemwide, the Department of Corrections has never had a foodborne illness in 14 years of tracking,” she said.
She attributes this record to following health department and U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, including following the 160-degree minimum temperature rule during cooking.
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