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Salmonella Egg Warning Delayed

Aug 26, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
Salmonella Warning Delayed

Iowa Source of Salmonella Outbreak

State and federal health agencies knew Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa was probably the source of the Salmonella outbreak a couple of weeks before the public was advised on August 13th,said USA Today, citing health officials it interviewed.

As far back as late July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) thought about advising consumer to not eat undercooked eggs, according to Ian Williams, CDC chief of outbreak response, said USA Today. Instead of issuing a warning, the CDC, instead, allowed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to complete its probe of Wright County Egg, said USA Today.

Donna Rosenbaum, a food safety advocate who operates Safe Tables Our Priority described the delay as “very disturbing,” adding, "We understand that public health officials do not like to go out on a limb and be wrong…. We firmly believe you should err on the side of telling consumers,” quoted USA Today.

Some 550 million eggs have been recalled by both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the two producers linked to the recall. Both firms are owned by the DeCoster family, owner of agribusiness firms in the Midwest and Northeast, said CNN. Recently, Austin “Jack” DeCoster was cited and paid hefty fines for a range of violations that include animal cruelty, ongoing environmental problems, federal immigration charges, and mistreating employees, said the Des Moines Register.

According to the CDC, about 1,300 illnesses have been linked to the outbreak. About 30 cases are estimated to be unreported for each reported case.

USA Today Noted Salmonella Outbreaks

USA Today noted that in late July, both the California and Minnesota state health departments connected a number of Salmonella outbreaks to small restaurants, believing eggs to be responsible, with Wright County Egg as the supplier, according to Williams. Despite this, the FDA took until August 10 to advise Wright County Egg, holding off on providing details until August 12, said company spokeswoman, Hinda Mitchell, wrote USA Today. The decision to recall took place after Wright County Egg spoke with FDA the following morning.

Jeff Farrar, FwDA associate commissioner for food protection, said the agency needed a variety of paperwork to confirm Wright County Egg supplied the contaminated eggs, wrote USA Today. "We have seen instances in the past where preliminary information on tracebacks was wrong," Farrar said, quoted USA Today. On August 9th the FDA believed it had the information needed to contact the egg producer advising it to issue the recall on August 11th. The FDA and Wright County Eggs were unable to explain why their individual first contact dates are not the same.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), described the FDA’s delay as excessive, calling the paperwork description as "a fairly bureaucratic excuse," quoted USA Today. "Every day you delay a recall you're risking additional illnesses," she added.

Meanwhile, we just wrote that the massive egg recall could have been largely prevented with low-cost vaccinations, citing the Associated Press (AP). Although the vaccination has been available in the US since 1992, it is not mandated in the U.S.; however, the vaccines are used in Britain, where they enjoy the safest egg supply in Europe.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times reported that the FDA considered a mandate to vaccinate hens against the Salmonella pathogen under its emerging egg safety rules, but rejected the program.

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