September 10, 2010

USDA Discovered Pre-Recall Health Issues At Egg Farm

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors discovered unsanitary conditions at the Iowa farms at the center of the recent egg recall, but failed to notify health authorities, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing government officials and documents as sources.

The farm in question--Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa--is one of two linked to an ongoing salmonella outbreak which has caused nearly 1,500 people in the U.S. to fall ill. The company has recalled approximately 380 million eggs as a result of the outbreak, and in late August, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report confirmed that the company had failed to follow safety guidelines.

However, the conditions only recently reported by the FDA may have been discovered far earlier by USDA officials who were at the Wright County facility to grade eggs at a packing plant.

"The problems laid out in USDA daily sanitation reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal underscore the regulatory gaps that may have contributed to delays in discovering salmonella contamination," writers Alicia Mundy and Bill Tomson said in their report, noting that the FDA "says it never heard from the USDA about problems such as dirt and mold."

According to the Wall Street Journal report, if the USDA notifies the FDA that they have stopped grading eggs due to health-related issues, the FDA can inspect the facility and order a farm to cease shipment of eggs. They did not do so because USDA officials said that the conditions at the Wright County egg packing facilities were "routine" and that any issues brought up by inspectors were resolved before production began each day.

"The egg graders did their jobs," the USDA told the reporters in a statement.

It isn't clear whether the sanitation problems identified by the USDA graders had anything to do with the salmonella contamination," note Mundy and Tomson. "However, several members of Congress said the USDA missed an opportunity to raise an early alarm about safety that might have brought about a more timely federal response"¦ FDA food official Jeff Farrar said the two agencies needed to improve communication and they were working on it."


On the Net: