Salmonella egg recall expanding; Congress launches investigation

eggs on a conveyor at an egg production facility

The egg recall list has grown to half a billion eggs, and Congress has launched an investigation of the egg producers suspected of spreading a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Thinkstock photo.

Another Iowa egg producer joined a growing egg recall list Friday. A total of half a billion eggs have been recalled after nationwide salmonella outbreak that has sickened about 1,000 people in 10 states, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Congress has launched an investigation of the salmonella outbreak. New federal egg safety rules giving the FDA authority to inspect egg producers were enacted July 9. FDA officials said if the new food safety rules had been in effect the salmonella outbreak could have been prevented.

Egg producer has history of violations

The largest egg recall in recent history, according to the FDA, started last week when Wright County Egg recalled 380 million eggs. Several days later Hillendale Farms announced a recall of 180 million eggs after the FDA tracked salmonella cases to Quality Egg, one of its suppliers. CNN reports that Monday the House Energy and Commerce Committee submitted a request for documents from both companies. Wright County Egg and Quality Egg are owned by the DeCoster agribusiness empire in the Midwest and Northeast. DeCoster companies have a history of questionable practices. In June, Jack DeCoster admitted to 10 civil counts of animal cruelty in Maine. In 1996, DeCoster paid a $3.6 million fine after being accused of running a sweatshop for minority workers at a Maine chicken farm. In 2000, Iowa’s attorney general named DeCoster a “habitual violator” of state environmental laws following discharges of manure from hog-farming operations.

New federal egg safety rules

Until July 9, inspection of egg producers was the sole responsibility of the USDA. About 2,000 reports of illness have been traced to salmonella between May and July, which is nearly three times the typical figure, according to the Centers for Disease control. The Wall Street Journal reports that the FDA and the USDA now share inspection duties. The new egg safety rules include requiring farms to test eggs and facilities for salmonella, protect feed and water from contamination and buying chicks and young hens from suppliers that monitor for salmonella. The FDA is giving farms a year to become compliant.

Salmonella served sunny side up

Consumers are being advised to throw out or take back eggs in cartons stamped with certain packing dates and location codes. Even so, a salmonella contamination expert told the Los Angeles Times that there is always some threat of salmonella poisoning from raw eggs. A person can’t determine a salmonella egg from its look, smell or taste. People have been contracting salmonella poisoning most likely from making hollandaise sauce or eating their eggs sunny side up. Fully cooking eggs will kill any salmonella bacteria. The yolk should be cooked hard. Pasteurized eggs are safe. But consumers with eggs on the recall list should avoid any risk and get their money back.

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