Rodents and manure tracked by uncaged hens were discovered by U.S. inspectors at two Iowa farms that produced more than a half billion eggs recalled after a salmonella outbreak.
Maggots were also found at one of the farms, Wright County Egg, the Food and Drug Administration said today in reports on its website. The Wright facility and Hillandale Farms of Iowa, both privately held, failed to “fully implement” plans to prevent contamination, according to one of the reports.
This month’s recall, which has sickened as many as 1,470 people in the U.S., may be the biggest withdrawal of salmonella-tainted eggs from the market in at least eight to 10 years, Jeffrey Farrar, the Food and Drug Administration’s associate commissioner for food protection, said Aug. 23 on a conference call. Wright, based in Galt, Iowa, has recalled 380 million eggs since Aug. 13. Another 170 million eggs were pulled from the market Aug. 19 by Hillandale Farms, based in New Hampton, Iowa, bringing the total to 550 million.
Doors to poultry-house manure pits at the Wright farm were “pushed out by the weight of manure, which was piled in some cases four to eight feet high,” David Elder, director of FDA’s Office of Regional Operations, said today on a conference call.
“Maggots, Excessive Manure”
“Live and dead maggots too numerous to count” and “excessive amounts of manure” were among the problems FDA inspectors found at the Wright farm, according to one of the reports. “Unsealed rodent holes” and “uncaged hens tracking manure” were found at Hillandale Farms, according to the other report.
“We have no reason to believe this is indicative of practices throughout the industry,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food. The agency plans to inspect 600 additional farms, starting next month, under a new egg-safety rule that took effect in July, he said.
While Wright and Hillandale aren’t affiliated with one another, Wright’s parent company, Quality Egg LLC, supplies birds and feed to both farms, said Hinda Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Wright, in an Aug. 24 e-mail.
Four samples taken by FDA inspectors at Wright County’s farm tested positive for bacteria that is identical to the outbreak strain, Sherri McGarry, emergency coordinator at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said last week on a conference call. Two of the samples were from chicken feed that Wright uses at its farm and supplies to Hillandale, McGarry said. The FDA is still processing almost 600 additional samples from both farms.
The same salmonella strain also was found in a water sample taken from the Hillandale Farms facility, Elder said today. The water had been used to wash the exterior of eggs as they move on a conveyer line from the laying house to a packing facility, he said.
The FDA hasn’t drawn any conclusions about the source of salmonella contamination at either farm, Farrar said.
Both egg companies said they are cooperating with FDA.
“To demonstrate our continued commitment to running our farms in the most responsible manner and to ensuring the safety of the eggs we produce, our team has worked around the clock to address concerns that were raised verbally during FDA’s inspection, with many of those being fixed as soon as they were identified,” Hinda Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Wright County Egg, said today in an e-mail. “We are approaching the agency’s written report in the same rigorous manner.”
“Several of the issues” in the FDA’s report on Hillandale “had been identified by the facilities prior to FDA’s inspection and were already in the process of being addressed during the inspection period,” Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for the company, said today in an e-mail. “Additionally, some of the issues were immediately corrected as soon as they were identified. Hillandale is committed to addressing all issues raised and will be in full compliance as soon as possible.”
Salmonella can cause fever, abdominal cramps and severe diarrhea and may require hospitalization, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness can cause potentially fatal complications in infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The salmonella outbreak is the largest since the CDC began tracking the illness in the late 1970s, Christopher Braden, acting director of the CDC’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases, said last week.
2,403 Illness Reports
The CDC has received almost 2,403 reports of salmonella-related illnesses since May 1. While it’s unclear how many of those cases are linked to the recalled eggs, the agency would have expected to see 933 cases during that time period, based on data from the previous five years, Braden said. For every salmonella-related illness reported to the CDC, there may be 30 unreported cases, he said.
Health authorities in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas are investigating whether salmonella illnesses in those states are linked to the recalled eggs, according to the FDA. State officials in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin have said they also are investigating possible links.
The recalled shell eggs are packaged under more than 30 brand names including Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps, the FDA said on its website.
Lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms on Aug. 23 to submit documents dating back more than five years about their safety practices, any alleged violations and their discovery of the contaminated eggs. The committee also requested documents from the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, also has asked the FDA and the agriculture department what they knew about reports of past violations by Wright County Egg and affiliated companies before the recall occurred. DeLauro heads the House subcommittee in charge of the budget of both agencies.
Nationwide, 90.4 billion eggs were produced last year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Iowa farmers will produce 15 billion eggs this year, said Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council, a trade group in Urbandale, Iowa, in an Aug. 19 interview.