An Iowa farm that recalled eggs linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,500 people in the U.S. was contaminated with traces of the bacteria for at least two years, two lawmakers said.
Documents obtained by Congress showed 426 samples collected at Wright County Egg since 2008 tested positive for salmonella, Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Bart Stupak of Michigan said in a letter to Austin DeCoster, the farm’s owner. More than 70 of those samples were “potentially positive” for Salmonella enteritidis, the bacteria identified in the outbreak, the lawmakers said. DeCoster plans to testify at a Sept. 21 congressional hearing on the recall.
Wright, based in Galt, Iowa, recalled 380 million eggs last month. Another 170 million eggs were pulled from the market by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, based in New Hampton. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said 1,519 illnesses reported since May 1 may be linked to the eggs. The salmonella outbreak is the largest since the Atlanta-based CDC began tracking the illness more than 30 years ago.
“When you testify before the committee, we ask that you come prepared to explain why your facilities tested potentially positive for Salmonella enteritidis contamination on so many occasions, what steps you took to address the contamination identified in these test results, and whether you shared these results with FDA or other federal or state food safety officials,” Waxman and Stupak said in the letter.
Waxman is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Stupak heads the panel’s oversight subcommittee that has scheduled the hearing on the recall.
Maggots, rodents and eight-foot piles of chicken manure were among the health violations found by the Food and Drug Administration at closely held Wright County Egg last month, according to an Aug. 30 inspection report. The agency also found rodents and manure at the Hillandale facility, and said both farms failed to fully implement plans to prevent contamination. Orland Bethel, president of Hillandale Farms, also is scheduled to testify at next week’s hearing.
“While we were terribly disappointed to find positive results for Salmonella enteritidis in eggs, the results affirmed the appropriateness of our voluntary recall,” Wright County Egg said today in an e-mail. “We have requested and continue to ask for information from FDA about how our testing results relate to the current outbreak strain being investigated.
“We are critically interested in how this situation occurred and continue to consider that feed ingredient contamination may be a root cause of this problem,” the company said in its statement.
Salmonella can cause fever, abdominal cramps and severe diarrhea, and can lead to fatal complications in infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.