40,000 Pounds Of Potentially Contaminated Chicken Mistakenly Given Away

POSTED: 8:19 AM Feb 28 2012   UPDATED: 8:41 AM Feb 28 2012
BROWNWOOD, Texas -

What started out as a good deed could have potentially disastrous consequences ? after 40,000 pounds of contaminated chicken was mistakenly donated to charities in the Brownwood area two weeks ago.

The contaminated meat could be harmful to people because the meat may have thawed after an accident in Mills County involving an 18-wheeler that was hauling the meat.

Before the risk was understood, the company that owned the 40,000 pounds of meat donated it to churches in the Brownwood area, which distributed it to the needy.

Of the 40,000 pounds, only about 3,000 pounds has been accounted for ? with the bulk of it having already been eaten or awaiting consumption.

Health Inspector Paul Coghlan said the meat still has the ?potential to be dangerous.?

Here?s a more complete story, as reported by Lisa Tipton at Brownwoodnews.com. BrownwoodNews.com.

The story:

After a rollover accident in Mills County on February 10th, Brown County Health Department received a report that 40,000 pounds of partially thawed and potentially contaminated chicken was being given away in Brown County.

According to Brownwood/Brown County Health Inspector Paul Coghlan, the accident occurred around 9:30am on Friday, February 10th and disabled the refrigeration unit on a semi-truck trailer full of frozen chicken. Texas Department of Public Safety worked the accident scene until approximately 9:30pm and condemned the trailer load of chicken due to its partial thawing and possible health risks said Coghlan. He explained that the chicken posed a hazard with consumption of either salmonella or food poisoning, both of which can be life threatening to anyone with a compromised immune system.

After the insurance company released the contents of the trailer to be disposed of on February 15th, someone from the company decided to take the chicken, not knowing of the health risk that it posed, to non-profit agencies such as Good Samaritan Ministries and the Salvation Army in Brownwood, according to Coghlan. Both of these agencies refused the donation because they are required to only buy or accept raw meats from licensed distributors. The man then went to local churches and donated many cases of chicken which were then passed on to individuals in need, Coghlan said.

As soon as Coghlan received the report about the man possibly donating the contaminated chicken, he and Dr. James Hays began trying to find where the chickens were distributed. They also notified the Brownwood Regional Medical Center emergency room so that cases of food poisoning or salmonella could be tracked. The man who donated the chicken was located and he gladly cooperated, giving officials a list of places he left the chicken, Coghlan said. Brownwood Police were also called in to assist in the search and interview of possible recipients of the tainted meat.

No criminal act was committed as the man was not trying to sell it but rather help people in need, according to Coghlan.

?The man was trying to do a good deed, unfortunately some people don?t know how to handle meat safely,? said Coghlan. ?I feel like we would have seen something by now if anyone was going to get sick from the meat; however it does still have potential to be dangerous.?

Coghlan stated that some of the people who received the chicken would not give the meat back; however, they were warned of the possibility that they may become ill if they consumed it. They were also given tips on how to tell if chicken is contaminated, to look for air in the packaging which signals decay, a slimy feel to the meat, or a foul odor when the packaging is opened.

Coghlan stated that schools, hospitals, prisons, and daycares have not accepted any of the contaminated chicken. He stated that the meat was only accepted by churches and individuals.

Brownwood City Manager Bobby Rountree did a radio spot alerting residents of the danger the chicken posed.

Of the 40,000 pounds of chicken on the trailer, less than 3000 pounds have been accounted for and the public is still urged to dispose of this chicken if received. Coghlan stated that the Health Department will continue to look for the meat for another six months but don?t know if they will find any more cases.

?I don?t want to panic the public,? said Coghlan. ?I am praying that we dodged a bullet because so far there has been no illness related to the meat reported.?

This incident was the largest complaint Coghlan has seen in the county since he took his position as health inspector.

?This is the largest complaint we?ve ever had to my knowledge,? said Coghlan. ?If nothing else, it has given us one heck of a training. This was actually a show of how well our agencies work together. The police department was very helpful and got people to talk to us.?