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Audit Chides USDA for Approving Tainted Eggs

The U.S. government’s “right hand” was grading and okaying egg shipments while its “left hand” was testing for and finding Salmonella contamination.   And the right hand had no idea what the left hand was doing.

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That pretty well sums up the findings of USDA’s Inspector General, who was brought in to scrutinize the Nov. 5 recall by Cal-Maine Foods of eggs from Ohio Fresh Eggs.  

The IG audit said USDA egg graders approved the Ohio Fresh Eggs for shipment without knowing inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had discovered Salmonella contamination.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) “is not permitted to put the grademark on any shell eggs that are not fit for human consumption, including shell eggs adulterated with SE (Salmonella Enteritidis),” the IG said.

But over 270,000 of the 280,000 shell eggs from Ohio Fresh carried the official USDA grademark.  ”The AMS graders who placed the grademark on the shell eggs were unaware that the Ohio producer recently had an environmental positive test  result for SE at one of its egg laying barns since neither the plant management nor FDA officials notified AMS that SE had been detected,” the IG report says.

“As a result, shell eggs containing the official USDA grademark were shipped to commerce, even though the shell eggs were considered adulterated with SE,” the IG added.

After the recall was announced, Ohio Fresh claimed the SE-contaminated eggs were shipped by mistake.  

The IG does make the point that egg production facilities at Ohio Fresh include laying barns where USDA and FDA both have regulatory authority and shell egg packing areas where AMS graders are responsible for issuing USDA marks.  Grading services are provided under contract for the egg producer.

AMS egg graders working under those contracts do not have authority to enter the egg laying barns. More importantly, according to the IG, the contracts AMS uses with egg producers do not require the companies to tell the egg graders when there has been  a positive test for pathogen contamination.

And while AMS is conflicted with its dual marketing and food safety roles, the IG notes that FDA also does not require plant management to report positive test results to either agency.

“According to an AMS officials,” the IG said, “the Ohio producer only confirmed that the pink dyed eggs came from the disinfectant used to clean the egg laying barn, and did not inform AMS  personnel of the SE environmental positive test result.”

AMS officials told the IG they did not learn about the October 2010 Salmonella contamination at Ohio Fresh until they read a Nov. 7 news article on the Internet about the recall.

The  IG report also says the AMS supervisor at Ohio Fresh said eggs with pink dye were originally not shipped because they did not meet quality standards, but they were mistakenly sent to Arkansas where they were graded by another AMS grader.

Ohio Fresh, the AMS supervisor said, sent the eggs to a nearby plant for processing, but they were mistakenly routed to Arkansas where they were graded.  The IG said AMS should change its procedure to make sure that does not happen again.

In a separate matter, a half billion-shell eggs were recalled in August, 2010, by two Iowa egg production facilities, also for SE contamination.  More than 1,000 people were infected by Salmonella in the outbreak associated with the Iowa egg recall.   

Egg baron Jack DeCoster is an investor and/or owner in both the Iowa facilities and Ohio Fresh.

© Food Safety News
  • dangermaus

    More evidence that if you really want to protect yourself from food-borne illness, you need to be conscious of what you’re buying and how you prepare it, not rely on some government agency to make the whole world safe for you.

  • Steve Gilman

    dangermaus –
    With eggs especially — but also with a wide range of industrial-food products sitting on supermarket shelves — how are we to distinguish quality products among all those brands when many of them are the same product from the same source but with a different label and packaging? It would be empowering to have truth-in-labeling requirements (including GMOs) that would truly benefit the consumer instead of the producer, for once.
    This, it seems to me, is a proper role of government — but the major problem with government these days is that it has been taken over by the corporate-producer interests — who have the further “privitization” of public functions in their sights.
    Meanwhile, consumers should also be conscious of HOW their food is being produced for them, in their name. Eggs from CAFO-style factory farm units are a pale imitation of the real thing — developing face to face relationships with local farmers using healthy, non-toxic farming practices is surely the best way to go…

  • John Monday

    I know a lot of folks who don’t eat eggs (they’re allergic, for health reasons, or concerns about animal cruelty). Here’s an awesome site that gives tips on cooking and baking without eggs: http://EggFreeLiving.com