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Salmonella 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 eggs.
--Wisconsin: 21 cases linked to the Baker Street Restaurant and Pub in Kenosha.
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 illness.

Publisher's Platform
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 fiasco.
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 plants.
- 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 previous raids.
- 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 bacteria;
? 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 use;
? Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis;
? 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
08/24/2010 01:02PM

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 by mistake.
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 protect consumers."
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 so hollow.
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for and

Egg Kingpin 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 shocking images.
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 day.
"They were appalled by what they saw," he told "It is a human rights issue as well as an animal rights and animal welfare issue."
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 going.
Key members of Congress are now seeking more information about the two farms linked to the salmonella outbreak, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms.
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."

Finding 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 issue completely.

E. coli 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 director.
He said officials might never know exactly which animals were the sources of infection.
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 kidney failure.
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 years.
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.

Colorado company develops new food-testing technology
written 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 from salmonella.
"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.

Hyperspectral 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 USDA.
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 detection studies.
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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