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Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 12:01 am

Gobble, gobble

Turkey replaces chicken at treatment center

 Whether processed chicken is so unpalatable as to be illegal will be decided by a federal jury under a recent decision by U.S. district court judge Sue Myerscough.

In the meantime, denizens of the Rushville Treatment and Detention Center have seen their culinary situation evolve since suing the state of Illinois and the state’s food service contractor four years ago, alleging that a steady diet of mechanically separated chicken violates their constitutional rights.

“It’s been reported to us that they are no longer serving mechanically separated chicken at the Rushville Treatment Center,” said Daniel Noll, a Springfield attorney who is representing the residents in federal court. “Apparently, it (now) is ground turkey.”

Mechanically separated chicken, by contrast, is made by forcing carcasses through devices that detach any clinging bits of meat, which ends up as a paste-like substance before cooking. Rushville residents were being fed the stuff as many as six days a week as a substitute for beef in such dishes as spaghetti, meatloaf and biscuits and gravy.  The treatment center in Schuyler County is a secure facility that houses men deemed sexually dangerous under civil law.

Noll said that he did not know when the menu changed, nor could he say how often turkey is served.

In a ruling issued this month, Myerscough rejected arguments from the plaintiffs that mechanically separated chicken provided by Aramark Food Services under contract with the state cannot be the sole source of protein in a meal.

“While a more accurate description for Aramark’s ‘meat loaf’ might be ‘mechanically separated chicken loaf,’ a misleading menu does not violate the Constitution,” Myerscough wrote.

Regardless of what menus might say, it boils down to taste and health, Myerscough decided.

“(T)he real question in this case, in the court’s opinion, is whether the mechanically separated chicken meals are as bad as plaintiffs say,” Myerscough ruled. “Plaintiffs maintain that the mechanically separated chicken meals are sickening, repeatedly causing nausea, diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress and, at least as to (one plaintiff), weight loss.”

If the food really is so bad that it provokes illness, the residents could prevail, the judge decided in allowing the lawsuit to proceed. The state says that the plaintiffs have no issues with weight loss or other health problems. The state also says that employees eat the food without complaint, and the center’s former director says that he sampled the food twice a week.

A trial date has been set for June.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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