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Egg Outbreak: the facts so far
Posted on August 22, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Over 500,000,000 eggs have been recalled due to potential contamination
by Salmonella enteritidis. The recalls have been initiated by two apparently
distinct corporations, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, although
reports certainly suggest that the two companies have close ties, including
part of their egg production operations. The CDC estimates that, as
of August 19, there have been 1,953 illnesses nationally caused by the
same strain of Salmonella enteritidis, many of which are thought to
be related to the Wright County Egg outbreak.
Here is a summary of what we know, to date, about the retail sources
of people's confirmed illnesses nationally:
--California: 266 confirmed cases, including 43 in Los Angeles County.
--Colorado: 28 cases in June and July, versus the usual 7 cases for
that time frame; some of the cases were from an outbreak associated
with The Fort, a restaurant in Jefferson County.
--Minnesota: 14 cases, linked to at least two separate restaurant outbreaks,
one of which is rumored to be Mi Rancho, a relatively new Mexican cuisine
restaurant in north Bemidji, whose eggs were traced to Hillandale Farms.
--Southern Nevada: 30 cases since January ? four times the usual number.
--Texas: more than 150 cases in 40 or more counties since mid-May; investigations
are in progress to determine how many are linked to Wright County's
--Wisconsin: 21 cases linked to the Baker Street Restaurant and Pub
In addition to the lawsuit we have filed against Wright County Egg in
the outbreak at Baker Street Restaurant in Wisconsin, we have been contacted
by 45 people from all across the country, including the specific states
listed above. Specifically, we have been retained by multiple people
from Ohio, North Carolina, and Oregon to investigate their suspicious
Salmonella enteritidis illnesses during the time frame of this outbreak;
and tomorrow, we will be filing suit on behalf of an 11-year-old California
girl who was sickened in early July after consuming recalled eggs. The
young girl was hospitalized for several days during her severe, acute
by Bill Marler | Aug 22, 2010
The House and Senate Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Oversight Committees should hold joint hearings on the Salmonella egg
As I said to the Associate Press yesterday, "The history of ignoring
the law makes the sickening of 1,300 and the forced recall of 550 million
eggs shockingly understandable." I was talking about the owner
of the largest egg farm at the center of this massive recall and outbreak
of Salmonella Enteriditis. As the AP found, the owner, Austin "Jack"
DeCoster, is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:
- In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines to settle
citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations at DeCoster's
farm in Turner, Maine. Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said conditions
were "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop." He cited
unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria,
and other unsanitary conditions.
- In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a "habitual violator"
of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff
into waterways. The label made him subject to increased penalties and
prohibited him from building new farms.
- In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced
a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination
lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported
they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse, and
retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster's Wright County
- In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six
DeCoster egg farms. The farm had been the subject of at least three
- In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming, the successor company to DeCoster
Egg Farms, agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to
make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture
over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden camera
investigation by an animal welfare organization.
Yesterday, according to the Washington Post, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), announced
plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department
about DeCoster. DeLauro's questions are aimed at getting more information
about how much federal regulators knew about DeCoster's poor compliance
record and what steps were taken to ensure safety at DeCoster's facilities.
I think questions should be asked. Actually--a lot of questions. However,
in addition to Congresswoman DeLauro's, I would ask the FDA and U.S.
Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service together
(hence the joint hearing), who was in charge of what in inspecting the
DeCoster farms prior to the beginning of the Salmonella outbreak in
late May? Will that jurisdiction change now that the iEgg Rulei (also
known as iFederal Register Final Rule (July 9, 2009, 74 FR 33030): Prevention
of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage,
and Transportationi) is in effect? Is this apparent ijoint jurisdictioni
between FDA and FSIS the best way of assuring the public that eggs will
be safer? Are resources sufficient to assure the public that the most
is being done to protect them and prevent a similar debachle from happening?
For good measure, I would ask DeCoster to come and explain (under oath)
to the Committee if his farms were complying with the spirit and/or
letter of the iEgg Rulei before the recall and outbreak. Here are the
highlights of the Rule:
? Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella
? Establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent
the spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment;
? Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella Enteritidis. If
the tests find the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must
be tested over an eight-week time period (four tests at two-week intervals);
if any of the four egg tests is positive, the producer must further
process the eggs to destroy the bacteria, or divert the eggs to a non-food
? Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella
? Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees F during storage and transportation
no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid (this requirement also
applies to egg producers whose eggs receive a treatment, such as pasteurization);
? Environmental Testing for Salmonella Enteritidis. There are specific
requirements on when and how to test for the pathogen and coordination
with pullet testing; and,
? Egg Testing for Salmonella Enteritidis. Whenever you have reason to
know/suspect of presence of Salmonella Enteritidis. Two week intervals
in positive poultry houses.
The FDA said that if DeCoster had been following the iEgg Rulei this
outbreak would not have happened. Really? His farms really were not
trying to follow the common sense ideas above before this happened?
If he was following the Rule, where was the error made? Or, is there
something wrong with the Rule?
Much to talk about, much to learn.
Jolley: Fried Eggs & Peanut Butter Soup ? Why
Food Inspection Is Failing The Public
Years ago, when I was publisher
of Meat&Poultry magazine and a series of food industry recalls hit
the fan ? recalls caused by what seemed to be willful neglect, not just
an unknown cause that might take weeks or months to solve ? I wrote
an editorial that said if you can¡¯t do it right, then do us all a favor,
cash out now and get the hell out of the food business.
I had some serious problems with ¡®voluntary¡¯ rules and regs. The good
guys do the right things, anyway. The bad guys, even if the say they
¡®volunteer¡¯ to do it right, never really follow through. I had some
serious problems with underfunded and understaffed watchdogs like the
USDA and the FDA. Reviewing just a scant handful of the tens of thousands
of food processing plants in America is like trying to find an oil slick
in the Gulf of Mexico by sampling a teacup full of water drawn from
random locations every month or so. You¡¯ll catch a few but you¡¯ll almost
always be surprised by that 26 mile long oil slick somebody else discovered
So now we have what a lawyer might call irrefutable proof; over half
a billion eggs recalled from what appears to be a business run by one
of the baddest of bad actors in the food industry. I had foolishly thought
the great Peanut Corporation of America recall was as bad as it could
get. It was a poorly run company headed up by people who took every
short cut imaginable, ignored lab tests showing Salmonella-contaminated
product and shipped the stuff, anyway. Because the product was used
as an ingredient in untold thousands of products, there was no way for
consumers to protect themselves and an estimated 492 people were sickened
and seven people died.
Understand that Stuart Parnell, the top guy at PCA, reportedly served
on a quality control committee for a national peanut association. So
much for his ¡®voluntary¡¯ effort.
And now we have over half a billion eggs recalled for possible salmonella
contamination and all of them are linked to a company that was allowed
to operate even with a laundry list of charges that can only make the
heads of groups like HSUS, PETA and ALF giggle with delight. Jack DeCoster,
the head of DeCoster Egg Farms, the offending company, just replaced
Parnell as the poster child for evil food business villains.
Of course, the FDA has to shoulder some of the blame. DeCoster Egg Farms
wasn¡¯t some obscure company hidden away in a remote Appalachian valley;
it was one of the largest egg producers in America and very well-known
to law enforcement wherever they operated. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg
needs to pull everyone associated with inspecting DeCoster¡¯s facilities
into FDA headquarters and do some serious soul searching.
Hamburg is aware that the recall might not be over. On Monday, she told
ABC¡¯s Good Morning America, "We don't know exactly how the contamination
got into the chicken population, into the egg population, and we're
not yet fully sure the extent of the recall that will be necessary to
OMG! Are we to trust only irradiated, hard boiled eggs in the meantime?
Not to worry, I guess, since almost all those 500,000,000+ eggs have
already been consumed.
Over a half billion eggs recalled and the number could grow, millions
of pounds of peanut paste recalled, fruits and vegetables by the carload
recalled, millions of pounds of meat recalled ? and most of it consumed
before the USDA or FDA was aware of the problem and the public was notified?
And people still want to claim that we have ¡°the safest food supply
in the world?¡±
We have a badly fractionalized inspection system that desperately needs
more money and more feet on the ground to do the job. Hopefully, Obama¡¯s
Food Safety Working Group can move things forward but he only recently
issued a public statement in support of the pending Senate food safety
bill so it doesn¡¯t seem to be tops on his radar screen. Yet.
Obama noted his FSWG, co-chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, has issued
recommendations on how to upgrade the food safety system and it was
time for the House and Senate to act on those ideas. Too often, though,
federally appointed ad hoc committees recommend needed steps that are
political hot potatoes which are quickly ignored by your elected officials.
What we have now are too many businesses that need to be put shuttered
immediately and it takes lawyers like Bill Marler to do it only after
a recall that sickened thousands and killed hundreds. They¡¯re doing
a job that tax dollars should be doing.
Bottom line: Marler, et al. are pariahs, hated by the major trade associations
that serve the food industry. ¡°Damn ambulance chasers¡± is just one of
the more polite terms I¡¯ve heard when talking with association execs.
Maybe if a few associations and the feds ramped up their efforts at
policing food safety, there would be a lot fewer ambulances to chase
and that ¡°safest food supply in the world¡± claim wouldn¡¯t sound quite
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers
a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com.
Linked to Salmonella Scare Has History of Violations
Published August 24, 2010
The egg mogul linked to the widespread salmonella outbreak is considered
by government officials a repeat offender, and the allegations and violations
at his farms go far beyond sanitation to illegal immigration, unsafe
workplace conditions and sexual abuse of female employees.
Though the recent recall is the first time conditions at his farms have
drawn such heated and nationwide scrutiny, Austin "Jack" DeCoster
has been cited for violations dating back at least to the early 1990s.
DeCoster has been a force in the egg world for decades, with companies
and locations under various names operating in Maine, Iowa and elsewhere.
His Wright County Egg is one of two Iowa farms directly linked to the
salmonella scare, and his Quality Egg supplies chickens and feed to
both farms involved.
DeCoster's farms have continued operating despite spending nearly two
decades under the watchful eye of state and federal officials and facing
lawsuits and millions of dollars in fines for other reasons.
DeCoster's farms started gaining national attention in late 1995, when
a local newspaper in Maine wrote an expose about his farm conditions.
After months of protests and a federal investigation, the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration fined him $3.6 million for workplace
violations -- investigators claimed workers were handling dead chickens
and manure with their bare hands, according to a newspaper report at
the time. Their living quarters were comparably squalid.
Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said at the time the workers were
being treated like animals and that the conditions were "among
the worst" he'd seen.
Mercy for Animals conducted a hidden-camera investigation on Quality
Egg of New England last year, which resulted in state-issued animal
cruelty charges. The investigation captured footage of hens thrown in
trash cans, rotting corpses in the same cages with live hens and other
Daniel Hauff, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, said
that when animal cruelty is prevalent, worker abuse usually follows.
Hauff said when state investigators raided the farm in 2009, three were
hospitalized from breathing the fumes that the workers inhale every
"They were appalled by what they saw," he told FoxNews.com.
"It is a human rights issue as well as an animal rights and animal
DeCoster's son Peter, who operates the farms, declined to answer questions
when approached by Fox News. He denied that the Food and Drug Administration
claims his family's farms are unsafe.
But Iowa's attorney general in 2000 officially classified DeCoster a
"habitual violator" of state environmental laws. Two years
later, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fined DeCoster
Farms more than $1.5 million in an employment discrimination case. The
case was brought on behalf of women, mostly Hispanic immigrants, who
said they suffered harassment, abuse and rape at the hands of DeCoster's
supervisors in Iowa, according to an EEOC statement.
The EEOC said the supervisors harassed and assaulted the women, some
of whom were undocumented, and threatened to retaliate if they complained.
Additionally, immigration raids have been a fairly common occurrence
at DeCoster's farms. Fifty-one workers were arrested in a 2007 raid
on six of DeCoster's farms in Wright County, Iowa. The employees reportedly
included juveniles. That followed a string of other raids over the past
decade in which dozens of workers were arrested.
It's unclear whether the Obama administration has targeted DeCoster's
properties for employer audits. A call to the Department of Homeland
Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not immediately returned.
But the administration has shifted from illegal immigrant roundups at
workplaces to conducting so-called "silent raids," in which
the federal government conducts audits of businesses to check on whether
illegal immigrants are working there. The number of arrests and deportations
at work sites has gone down since President Obama took office, but the
audits are up 50 percent and fines have tripled to nearly $3 million.
Agriculture officials now say that tougher federal regulations -- some
of which went into effect last month and some of which are still being
considered by Congress -- could have enabled authorities to catch the
salmonella symptoms before the problem got out of hand. But even when
he was flagged by officials, DeCoster just paid the fines and kept on
Key members of Congress are now seeking more information about the two
farms linked to the salmonella outbreak, Wright County Egg and Hillandale
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee's oversight panel, announced Monday he was launching an investigation.
He and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.,
sent letters to both farms requesting information regarding when they
first learned about the contamination and when they reported it.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the
farms involved in the recall "were not operating with the standards
of practice that we consider responsible."
STECs in an Emotional Hay Stack
by Chuck Jolley | Aug 25, 2010
I am a fan of the meat industry's efforts to identify and eliminate
sources of foodborne illness. The work done to end the scourge of E.
coli O157:H7 alone has tapped the best scientific minds around the world
and cost millions of dollars. Processing plants have reconstructed their
production lines, added costly but necessary kill steps, and changed
the way the entire distribution system works. The results have been
truly phenomenal; not at 100 percent yet and it never will be, but very
close to what it can be.
But the industry's efforts still have a problem and it's one of perception.
I've often said the science behind what the industry does is sound and
trumps the emotional appeals used by anti-meat groups. Those emotional
appeals, unfortunately, often win the day and here's why: People eat
with their hearts and souls. When a family member is struck with a foodborne
illness and lingers near death, people react to the tragedy with their
hearts and souls. They take no comfort in the fact that only an incredibly
small proportion of meals result in illness or premature death. They
take even less comfort in the fact that a number of those deaths and
illnesses might have been due to food mishandling on their part.
Case in Point: Back when I was teaching a course on crisis management
for the meat industry and using real world incidents as discussion points,
one of the people in the class got overly agitated about the public
relations fall out caused by the death of a young boy.
"Why should my company have to suffer when it's clear that the
cause was undercooking food in the home?" he exclaimed.
I said, "Would you like to stand up in front of a group of reporters,
point to the grieving mother and tell them that it's all her fault?
That she actually killed her five-year-old?"
A comment like his comes across as cold and unfeeling. It's business
suicide. And as Jim Marsden, a well-known and highly respected meat
science researcher at Kansas State University said, "'Just cook
it' isn't the answer."
Here is a harsh, non-scientific fact: Science can only take you so far
with the public. There comes a time when emotion takes the argument.
With all the work the food industry has done to eliminate foodborne
illnesses, it's often seen as lacking in resolve. The food industry
has to appear to take charge of the foodborne illness issue and not
be seen as dragging its feet. The AMI letter sent to USDA Secretary
Vilsack sends the wrong emotional message.
The letter says, "Designating non-O157:H7 shiga toxin-producing
Escherichia coli (STEC) as adulterants would result in a regulatory
program that will do more harm than good."
The public will ask, "For whom? My family or the meat business?"
AMI took the position that "Non-O157:H7 STEC's in beef products
may be a reason for potential public health concern, but it is not a
public health emergency."
The public will say, "For my children, a potential public health
concern is a public health emergency."
The letter outlined 8 specific steps that the USDA should complete before
considering STEC's as adulterants:
1. Focus on Prevention
2. Conduct a Comprehensive Public Health Risk Assessment
3. Validate Analytical Laboratory Test Methods
4. Conduct a Baseline Survey of Non-O157:H7 STECs on Beef Products
5. Measure Progress Based on the Public Health Outcome
6. Expedite Approval of New Microbial Interventions
7. Determine Impact on International Trade
8. Provide an Open and Transparent Public Policy Process
All eight are valid points that need to be addressed as quickly as possible.
Steps #3 and #6 are especially critical. Even if the USDA were to take
an immediate step of declaring STECs to be adulterants, there are no
valid tests or preventive technologies available. If a processor can't
test for STECs and eliminate them when present, the government can't
force the issue.
But I can see it coming already. Critics will immediately jump on the
points made in the letter as just another effort by the meat industry
to shirk its responsibility; to make food safety a financial, profit-and-loss
decision and take the focus off of it as a serious public health issue.
The AMI hit the science squarely on the head but missed the emotional
Outbreaks Follow Events in U.S. & Canada
by Dan Flynn | Aug 25, 2010
With free parking and admission at just $3 for adults, folks left the
Aug. 8-14 Northwestern Michigan Fair in Traverse City with a lot of
good memories, except for the three who left with Shigatoxin-producing
E. coli, or STEC.
The Grand Traverse County Health Department said those infected began
experiencing symptoms like bloody diarrhea immediately after the 102-year-old
fair wrapped up its run, from Aug. 15 to 17.
Most likely the STEC involved is E. coli O157:H7. It is the most common
pathogenic strain of the bacterium.
The Northwestern Michigan Fair, which begins with a Barn Dance, is known
for its extensive animal events and competition involving every kind
of farm animal. Up close horse, goat, rabbit, and other events make
up the fair's schedule.
"Considering the number of animals in close proximity to people
at the venue, it seems likely that their infections were contracted
(at the fair)," said Dr. Michael Collins, the county's medical
He said officials might never know exactly which animals were the sources
Further north, the number of E. coli cases linked to the Russian pavilion
at the recently ended Folklorama in Winnipeg is up to 26, up from the
original 16 cases that were reported immediately after the event.
Winnipeg health officials said 14 of the 26 cases have been laboratory
confirmed. Four people have required hospitalization, and two, both
children, continue to be held for treatment. E. coli infection can lead
to hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication that can lead to
Winnipeg's 41-year-old Folklorama attracted 447,000 visitors to 45 pavilions
over its two-week run from Aug 1-14, the highest attendance in three
While most the E. coli victims reported eating at the Russian pavilion,
health officials are continuing their interviews and the investigation
into what might be the common source of the outbreak.
company develops new food-testing technology
by: Jeffrey Wolf Corey Rose 2 days ago
DENVER - From 48 hours to less than 48 minutes - that's how much faster
a Colorado company says their product can test food.
Beacon Biotechnology has developed a chip that can test for more than
120 food-borne pathogens within minutes.
"Currently to check for food safety, it takes about two days. Our
product should enable food producers to test for salmonella, listeria,
and E. coli all at once within 30 minutes," Fred Mitchell, the
CEO Beacon Biotechnology, said.
More than 5,000 Americans die every year from food-borne pathogens,
and with the current egg recall, thousands of people have become ill
"I was thinking we have a test for that -and wishing we had this
product into the hands of people before this happened. The key here
is out product would ultimately make the food safe," Mitchell said.
With the 48-hour testing delay, companies have one of either two choices:
let the inventory sit on the shelf for two days, which wastes two days
of shelf life, or send out the product untested.
"There's always a trade off between having good shelf life and
yet being able to check it for safety, so you lose shelf life by the
time you make a production run. The alternative is that you ship it
and keep your fingers crossed consumers don't get sick, and unfortunately
a lot of providers have to do that," Mitchell said.
He says this would test the food faster, make it safer and ultimately
save the manufacturer and the consumer money.
This technology has not been approved by the USDA but Beacon Biotechnologies
hope to have it in the hands of food providers by late next year.
Imaging Speeds Detection of Campylobacter
By Sharon Durham
August 25, 2010
A type of high-tech imaging can be used to distinguish the foodborne
pathogen Campylobacter from other microorganisms as quickly as 24 hours
after a sample is placed on solid media in a Petri dish, according to
a study published by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.
The researchers, with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), used
technology called hyperspectral imaging, which combines digital imaging
with spectroscopy, to provide hundreds of individual wavelength measurements
for each image pixel. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of
According to the study, microorganisms grown on solid media carry unique
spectral fingerprints in the specific portion of the electromagnetic
spectrum. A hyperspectral imager identifies these fingerprints by measuring
light waves that bounce off or through these objects.
Unlike the human eye, which sees only visible light, hyperspectral imaging
can detect visible light as well as light from the ultraviolet to near-infrared
ranges. Hyperspectral imaging may also be applicable to other pathogen
Campylobacter infections in humans are a major cause of bacterial foodborne
illness both in the United States and other countries throughout the
world. Growing Campylobacter directly on solid media has been an effective
method to isolate this organism, but distinguishing Campylobacter from
non-Campylobacter microorganisms is difficult because different bacteria
can often look very similar.
A research team led by ARS electronics engineer Seung-Chul Yoon at the
agency's Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit in Athens, Ga.,
developed the imaging technique to detect Campylobacter colonies on
solid media in 24 hours. Normally, isolation and detection for identification
of Campylobacter from foods like raw chicken involve time-consuming
or complicated laboratory tests that may take several days to a week.
This "sensing" technology, which was nearly 100 percent accurate
with pure cultures of the microorganisms, could be used for early detection
of presumptive Campylobacter colonies in mixed cultures. The researchers
are working toward developing a presumptive screening technique to detect
Salmonella and Campylobacter in food samples.
Other ARS team members included research leader Kurt Lawrence, agricultural
engineer Bosoon Park, animal physiologist William Windham, and food
technologists John Line and Peggy Feldner. Line is at the ARS Poultry
Microbiological Safety Research Unit, also in Athens. Gregory Siragusa
of Danisco, in Waukesha, Wis., also collaborated on the study.
Findings from this study were published in the journal Sensing and Instrumentation
for Food Quality and Safety. This research supports the USDA priority
of ensuring food safety.
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