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Food Safety and the Egg Recall

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hellraiser eggSalmonella has been in the news for several months now due to a recall on eggs. According to Charlzetta Driver at Examiner.com, “The FDC in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted investigations of over a thousand reported cases in July of salmonella.” Colorado, California, and Minnesota seem to have suffered the most cases and were part of the recall.

On September 22, this product recall caused quite a stir during a House of Representatives committee hearing about the salmonella outbreak. Two victims of the illness spoke, as did the owners of the farms from which the eggs came. This was the first time the farmers faced any public questions about the situation.

Adding to the ruckus was a dispute among the Representatives themselves.You see, the House had passed a bipartisan food safety bill in July of 2009, and members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce clashed extensively about assigning the blame for stalling the Senate vote on its own version of the bill.

Austin DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg in Iowa, began his statement with an apology, claiming to be “horrified” that their eggs were responsible for the outbreak. While offering a possible cause, the FDA found no evidence to support it as Lisa Snirring, a writer for The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy, reports:

Though the company isn’t certain about the root cause of the contamination, it believes the source could be tainted meat and bone meal that it received from a third-party supplier for use in feed. An earlier FDA inspection report from the farms said feed samples tested positive for the outbreak strain, but FDA officials quoted in a media report said so far the pathogen has not been found in bone meal from a Minnesota rendering plant that supplied the Iowa company.

Of course, the fact that the company has a lengthy list of health and safety infractions does not do much to support their position. Rep. Henry Waxman in particular seems to be embracing that position:

Some legislators said blaming an outside source is symptomatic of the company not taking responsibility for the egg contamination problems. Rep Henry Waxman, D- Calif., said, ‘You’re refusing to take responsibility for a very poor facility.’

Equally interesting is the silence from the other farmer.

Meanwhile, Orland Bethel, president of Hillandale Farms, the second farm linked to the outbreak, chose not to make an opening statement and invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination when committee members questioned him. Stupak and Burgess tried to question him about Hillandale’s ties to DeCoster’s farms.

Duane Mangskau, production manager at Hillandale, fielded some of the questions about the relationship between the two companies, noting that the DeCosters own Hillandale’s Alden farm and share operations at the West Union farm. He said Hillandale’s role is primarily to market the eggs and that it has severed some of its business agreements with Wright County Egg.

I’m sure that these business relationships will be coming under further scrutiny.

Another disturbing fact brought to light by this federal hearing is that the third party company used by the DeCosters, AIB International, is the same company that audited Peanut Corporation of America — the company responsible for the 2008-09 samonella outbreak that was linked to peanut butter. Hundreds were sickened in that outbreak.

AIB gave Both Wright County Egg and Peanut Corp superior grades just before their products were recalled. As Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette (D) pointed out, this shows that third party food safety inspections do not always verify actual food safety.

In the Examiner article mentioned above, Charlzeta Driver provides some tips to help avoid salmonella.

Image by Francesco Rachello, used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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