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New Egg Rule Inspections Show Problems Persist

A year ago, the national media, spurred on by information from activists organizations, were quick to paint the recall of more than a half billion shell eggs as the work of just one man –agricultural business baron Jack DeCoster, who has had one regulatory run-in after another in the multiple states where he operates.

DeCoster is not standing out any more. Other big egg producers are looking a lot like him.

More than a year into sporadic attempts to enforce a new egg rule for large producers, inspections conducted by the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are proving that DeCoster practices are not really that unusual for America’s 600 largest egg producers.

Take Indiana’s White County Egg Farm, for example. Under multiple brand names, White County ships eggs for retail sales into Chicago in massive numbers. One expert says it would be hard to buy eggs in Chicago without purchasing a brand supplied by White County. An FDA inspection last April found Salmonella enteritidis (SE) in White County’s egg laying houses.

Yet FDA did not suspend sales from White County’s egg laying barns and Chicagoans have been in the dark for months about the SE contamination involving the Windy City’s main source of eggs. Instead, FDA’s Detroit office asked for a “regulatory meeting” with White’s owners.

Iowa’s newspaper of record, The Des Moines Register, this week marked the anniversary of last year’s half billion egg recall with an in-depth report on the the food safety shortcomings of the state’s egg industry.  With few exceptions, its report applies to the nation’s entire egg industry.  

Last year when Salmonella linked to shell eggs infected 1,900 people nationwide, DeCoster was at the center of the story because he owned the two Iowa egg farms involved and his past is filled with controversy over his various agricultural operations.  His Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms were responsible for the largest shell egg recall in U.S. history.

According to the Register, unsanitary conditions and inadequate  protection against Salmonella continue to be the reality at Iowa egg farms. Egg producers who find Salmonella contamination in their birds or laying houses do not have to tell anyone and the Register reported there have been no fines or penalties imposed by either state or federal agencies.

Iowa is the nation’s No. 1 egg producer.

Chicago’s egg supplier in White County, IN is owned by Rose Acre Farm Inc., which is based in Seymour.  Like DeCoster, it is one of the nation’s largest egg producers.

Also last April, FDA investigators attempting to inspect the Rose Acre Farms egg production facility in Guthrie Center, Iowa were waved off because some of the chickens had Marek’s Disease. It is easily prevented with vaccines.

Marek’s Disease is a viral tumor-causing  disease that is highly contagious disease among chickens, but poises no danger to humans. According to the Register, the state veterinarian told the federal agents they should not re-enter the Guthrie City egg farm and advised them to stay off other farms or egg-producing facilities for five days.   

Since last July, the new rule designed to reduce Salmonella contamination in raw eggs has applied only  to the 600 largest egg producers. In 2012, it will apply to all egg farms with 3,000 birds or more. Some egg buyers wonder how the smaller egg farms will do given the difficulty large producers are having with the egg rule.

According to FDA, the new rule requires environmental testing 4-6 weeks after the end of each molt, and again when any group of hens within a house is 40-45 weeks old.

The new rule also requires bio-security measures, control of pests and rodents, cleaning and disinfection at depopulation, and proper refrigeration.

The industry’s own push for higher standards, the “Five Star” program at United Egg Producers, has existed since before last year’s big egg recall and comes in for criticism for lacking teeth.

FDA’s own standard operating procedures for enforcing the new egg rule also come in for criticism from food safety experts who asked not to be named.

Egg inspections are being carried out mostly by four inspector teams operating at the district level. Some say it would be more productive to have two or three teams of egg production specialists who could get through all the inspections faster.

Even the smallest jurisdiction doing restaurant inspections does not give advance warning of inspections, but FDA does warn producers who sell millions of eggs that it is coming.

FDA’s warning letters and Form 483 reports of Inspectional Observations still contain certain “redactions,”  even though the Obama Administration has boosted about its “transparency” since it took office.

Brands and building names and numbers, time and temperature data, counts of rodents and flies are examples of information that is often, but not always, blacked out.

Another inspection that the Register called out was Sparboe Farms in Eagle Grove, Iowa last May 16. It was the first time that location had ever been inspected since Sparboe began operations there in 2003.

FDA found Sparboe’s employees were moving freely among the facility’s various henhouses, including those that tested positive for Salmonella and those that did not. The industry is suppose to practice “bio-security,” taking such steps as changing out protective suits and foot coverings and cleaning equipment before moving from one building to another.

Movement of birds, rodent and flies among the buildings was also a problem at Sparboe.

Since last year’s big recall, it’s been hard to find an FDA Inspectional Observations Form (483) for a large egg producer that does not indicate a fundamental problem.

Some examples, mostly in the Northeast:

— Dorothy Egg Farms LLC in Turner, ME was written up for allowing stray animals to enter the poultry houses, sometimes going through the manure pit. Egg coolers were running too high, as high as 50 degrees when 45 is the limit; and bio-security records did not show cleaning of equipment going between buildings.

— Esbenshade Farms Inc. in Mount Joy, PA lacked steps to protect against cross contamination when employees moved between poultry houses on the same farm.

— DeCoster’s Maine Contracting Farm LLC in Turner, ME was found in late 2010 to be moving its “dead hen truck” into all the various laying houses without sanitizing the wheels and undercarriage as required in its bio-security plan.

Harborages for pests — debris and vegetation — were not removed from outside the poultry houses. Flies were not being monitored and recorded. There were also problems with the location of an excess feed trough, fans missing louvers and openings for birds to enter.

— Mountain Hollow Farms in Leeds, ME, inspected in late 2010, was not keeping eggs cool enough, allowing too many rodents, not documenting bio-security measures, and keeping inadequate records.

— Shippensburg, PA-based Hillside Poultry Farms Inc. last November was found with debris and vegetation in its poultry barns creating harborages for pests and cited for not controlling flies, nor maintaining proper records.

— At Marietta, PA-based Esbenshade Farms Inc., FDA was concerned about people causing cross contamination by moving between buildings, and lack of control of flies and rodents.

— Ohio Fresh Eggs, which had the latest large recall involving 290,000 eggs, was criticized for lacking a Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) prevention plan for specific laying houses and for n
ot documenting its chick production from SE-monitored breeder flocks.  Also, Ohio Fresh was not testing pullets.

DeCoster also has a financial interest in Ohio Fresh, according to industry sources.

U.S. egg production during June 2011 — the latest month for which data is available — was 6.44 billion table eggs, up from last June’s 6.38 billion table eggs. Each American annually eats 247.4 eggs, down about 10 eggs from earlier in the decade.

Still, it means your individual odds of getting a bad egg are pretty low — something like one in 26 million. But tell that to the 1,900 people who got sick last year.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    Jumpin’ Jehosophat, these inspection reports seem to me to highlight why our eggs should ONLY be produced by professional farmers! That is our best hope of controlling disease and producing eggs that are truly safe for human consumption.
    You have to admit, all of the USDA complaints, it seems, are simply ‘business as usual’ for little operators and backyard barnyard chicken keepers:
    ….stray animals have access to the birds (pets too?)
    ….cross contamination from people (and kids?) moving from site to site
    ….flies not monitored (except maybe by next-door neighbors who are trying to eat lunch on their deck)
    ….debris and vegetation (like weedy backyard gardens and compost piles?)
    ….openings for wild birds to enter the chicken area (are wild birds actually being attracted to feeders in the neighborhood?)
    ….not keeping eggs cool enough (like when they’re carted from hobby farm to farmers market to the next day’s market and the next?)
    ….not maintaining proper records (how ’bout no records at all, ever?)
    ….rodents (unless we have a cat or two – oops, see the first item, above)
    ….lacking a salmonella prevention plan, not testing birds (’nuff said)
    Wow, if the USDA were to inspect any little hobby farm or backyard chicken outfit they would have to sit down and breath into a brown paper sack to avoid fainting.
    These little backyard outfits obviously are mini public safety disasters waiting to recur. The only thing they have going for them is their micro-size; they are far less conspicuous than the bigger professional guys and they poison fewer people when something goes wrong…which is bound to happen if USDA criteria are any indication of risk. Oh, and presumably the neighbors sickened by the little hobbyists will forgive them, not report it and not file suit.
    This scrutiny of professionals bodes poorly for the amateurs, unless the only criteria being evaluated is farm size…and whether or not each chicken has been named by the kids.

  • The Des Moines Register headlined its article much more appropriately than Food Safety News. Its headline reads, “Register investigation: Egg farms rack up violations.” This is followed with the smaller headline, “FDA finds unsanitary conditions, keeps key data secret.”
    Had I written the FSN headline, it would have read “Des Moines Register Investigation Reveals Problems in Largest Egg Producers Are Widespread.” That would have been followed by the smaller headline, “Despite Major Infractions, FDA Not Only Fails to Inform Consumers But Also Blocks Attempts to Learn the Names of Brands Involved.”
    The link to the main Des Moines Register article is http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110828/NEWS/308280055/1001/. It has several other good, related articles.
    I thank FSN for pointing out the results of inspections of other large producers
    I ask that FSN post on-line examples the of FDA’s redactions in its warning letters and Form 483 inspection reports so that it will be clear to every FSN reader how the FDA has a double standard for handling of infractions by the largest and smallest producers under its purview.
    The Des Moines Register documented its lax standard for the largest producers clearly: “The FDA withheld an undisclosed number of reports in their entirety, and many of the inspection reports have several pages of notes completely blacked out on the grounds that they represent agency communications that are still subject to deliberation.”
    It additionally documented this laxity, as follows: “In July, the FDA sent a warning letter to Rose Acre Farms due to violations found in one of the company’s Indiana plants. According to the FDA, inspectors found salmonella enteritidis in two henhouses and discovered an “alarmingly high” number of rodents that had greatly increased the risk of eggs becoming contaminated with salmonella. From September 2010 to April 2011, the Indiana plant had trapped more than 21,000 rodents, the agency said.”
    The FDA trapped “more than 21,000 rodents” in just 8 months yet the Rose Acre Farms doesn’t have a rodent infestation problem?
    Compare this with the FDA’s seizure of cheese products made by Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin as reported by FSN in “U.S. Marshals Seize Cheese in Wisconsin” (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/05/us-marshals-seize-cheese-in-wisconsin/).
    As soon as the Wright County Egg outbreak was announced, FSN, the Make Our Food Safe (MOFS) coalition and other supporters of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) approach to food safety cited outbreak as ample reason for passing the S 510 version of the FSMA. All of them, including FSN, supported the FDA contention that its new Shell Egg Rule would have stopped the outbreak. For example, the Des Moines Register reporter, Philip Brasher, wrote in his blog entitled, “FDA: Delayed egg rules could have prevented outbreak,” “Caroline Smith DeWaal, a consumer advocate [with the Center for Science in the Public Interest] who has been following the development of the egg regulations since the 1990s, said the testing required by the FDA rules would have alerted the producer earlier to the contamination.”
    This was despite the fact that 40 or more days of the recalled eggs were produced after the new Shell Egg Rule was in force! This never seemed to matter to FSN though I regularly pointed it out in comments (e.g., http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/08/egg-salmonella-outbreak-grows/) at the time. Probably over 100,000,000 million of the eggs recalled were produced AFTER the new Shell Egg Rule was in force for Wright County Egg and Hallandale Farms. Obviously, the Shell Egg Rule didn’t make any substantial difference.
    And, at the time of the outbreak, the FDA’s grossly inadequate implementation plans had been set back by one of its inspectors, herself, violation of an obvious bio-security requirement and then vociferously denying it when her mistake was pointed out. (See “Oops! F.D.A. Error Is Talk of Henhouse” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/business/30egg.html?_r=3.)
    According to the New York Times article cited above, despite not having made a single inspection at that point, “Jeff Farrar, the head of food protection at the F.D.A., said the inspections were on track. ‘We are ready, we’re inspecting farms, we’re fully trained,’ Mr. Farrar said.” In fact, the first FDA inspection was made over 2 months AFTER the effective date of the new rule.
    Had the Wright County Egg outbreak not occurred, how many FDA inspections would have been made by now?
    So, I ask, “How is it possible that these multi-million dollar businesses that produce billions of eggs each year didn’t know they were operating in violation of the rule?” The answer is they did but it didn’t make any difference. Why should they be worried with the FDA’s long, extensive track record of lenient enforcement against big businesses?
    Besides, they don’t have to worry about the news media raising trouble because they understand the “48 hour news cycle” and they know that almost all of the big name “consumer advocates” have been “in bed with the FDA” for the last several years and, as shown above, and will begin immediately providing the FDA (and, consequently the business, cover.
    Is Food Safety News going break that pattern? Is FSN actually going to do the work that its publisher, Bill Marler, has so loudly declared its mission?
    This article is a small step in the right direction but; considering the fact that FSN has, once again, published “Doc Mudd’s” usual anonymous dissembling, I doubt it.

  • ecofood

    What are you doing Muddie. Playing both sides of the fence? This DeCoaster and White County people seem to be what you regularly defend, except they got caught. The “6oo largest egg producers” have huge confinement facilities, deliver cheap eggs, and obfuscate about disease in their barns. We sometimes find such people promoting the “opportunities of the organic food market due to public demand.” I am confident that my egg producer will do well under a scale appropriate inspection regime. Are you? Will you encourage lobbyist friends in DC to make sure the inspectors are barred from entry.
    Your comments above seem in favor of the frequent inspections that will raise costs for BigAg, threaten profits and eventually bring BigAg retail prices in line with the small farmers that you so loathe. And again, your comments also misrepresent the point of the article. The reviewed violations are primarily on large farms (the 600 largest egg producers.” If you know any of these “growers”/fed-fund-farmers, you are aware that they do consider themselves (to borrow your term) “professional farmers.”
    Your comments also suggest a need to change the subject. Don’t worry, these guys will do it for, you by whining that some jobs (read “cheap labor”)are threatened, when the real economic recovery would be fed by a robust network of ethical farms (large and small) growing safe food. Safe food does not need to be scorched to kill antibiotic resistant pathogens, which evolved on farms that you typically defend. ef

  • Doc Mudd

    Sounds like FDA needs to learn about the industry they aim to regulate, maybe first hone their regulatory & inspection skills on small amateur operations, something of a scale they can get their arms around before mounting the pulpit to preach to experienced industry professionals how to produce abundant, wholesome, affordable food.
    That would be sound advice for any specious anti-agriculture activist, as well, Harry.
    Maybe FDA’s ‘people’ could get together with your ‘people’ in the MidAtlantic region to learn the facts about successful modern agriculture, then together bring that newfound factual understanding along with your world-changing ‘A game’ to benefit the larger industry and the vast majority of American food consumers in some meaningful fashion?
    This much we know by now: A smattering of professionally deluded cranks hurling stinkbombs from their backyards hasn’t turned the clock back on farming methods, that just isn’t gettin’ ‘er done.

  • The Des Moines Register headlined its article much more appropriately than Food Safety News. Its headline reads, “Register investigation: Egg farms rack up violations.” This is followed with the smaller headline, “FDA finds unsanitary conditions, keeps key data secret.”
    Had I written the FSN headline, it would have read “Des Moines Register Investigation Reveals Problems in Largest Egg Producers Are Widespread.” That would have been followed by the smaller headline, “Despite Major Infractions, FDA Not Only Fails to Inform Consumers But Also Blocks Attempts to Learn the Names of Brands Involved.”
    The link to the main Des Moines Register article is http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110828/NEWS/308280055/1001/. It has several other good, related articles.
    I thank FSN for pointing out the results of inspections of other large producers
    I ask that FSN post on-line examples the of FDA’s redactions in its warning letters and Form 483 inspection reports so that it will be clear to every FSN reader how the FDA has a double standard for handling of infractions by the largest and smallest producers under its purview.
    The Des Moines Register documented its lax standard for the largest producers clearly: “The FDA withheld an undisclosed number of reports in their entirety, and many of the inspection reports have several pages of notes completely blacked out on the grounds that they represent agency communications that are still subject to deliberation.”
    It additionally documented this laxity, as follows: “In July, the FDA sent a warning letter to Rose Acre Farms due to violations found in one of the company’s Indiana plants. According to the FDA, inspectors found salmonella enteritidis in two henhouses and discovered an “alarmingly high” number of rodents that had greatly increased the risk of eggs becoming contaminated with salmonella. From September 2010 to April 2011, the Indiana plant had trapped more than 21,000 rodents, the agency said.”
    The FDA trapped “more than 21,000 rodents” in just 8 months yet the Rose Acre Farms doesn’t have a rodent infestation problem?
    Compare this with the FDA’s seizure of cheese products made by Brunkow Cheese of Wisconsin as reported by FSN in “U.S. Marshals Seize Cheese in Wisconsin” (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/05/us-marshals-seize-cheese-in-wisconsin/).
    As soon as the Wright County Egg outbreak was announced, FSN, the Make Our Food Safe (MOFS) coalition and other supporters of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) approach to food safety cited outbreak as ample reason for passing the S 510 version of the FSMA. All of them, including FSN, supported the FDA contention that its new Shell Egg Rule would have stopped the outbreak. For example, the Des Moines Register reporter, Philip Brasher, wrote in his blog entitled, “FDA: Delayed egg rules could have prevented outbreak,” “Caroline Smith DeWaal, a consumer advocate [with the Center for Science in the Public Interest] who has been following the development of the egg regulations since the 1990s, said the testing required by the FDA rules would have alerted the producer earlier to the contamination.”
    This was despite the fact that 40 or more days of the recalled eggs were produced after the new Shell Egg Rule was in force! This never seemed to matter to FSN though I regularly pointed it out in comments (e.g., http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/08/egg-salmonella-outbreak-grows/) at the time. Probably over 100,000,000 million of the eggs recalled were produced AFTER the new Shell Egg Rule was in force for Wright County Egg and Hallandale Farms. Obviously, the Shell Egg Rule didn’t make any substantial difference.
    And, at the time of the outbreak, the FDA’s grossly inadequate implementation plans had been set back by one of its inspectors, herself, violation of an obvious bio-security requirement and then vociferously denying it when her mistake was pointed out. (See “Oops! F.D.A. Error Is Talk of Henhouse” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/business/30egg.html?_r=3.)
    According to the New York Times article cited above, despite not having made a single inspection at that point, “Jeff Farrar, the head of food protection at the F.D.A., said the inspections were on track. ‘We are ready, we’re inspecting farms, we’re fully trained,’ Mr. Farrar said.” In fact, the first FDA inspection was made over 2 months AFTER the effective date of the new rule.
    Had the Wright County Egg outbreak not occurred, how many FDA inspections would have been made by now?
    So, I ask, “How is it possible that these multi-million dollar businesses that produce billions of eggs each year didn’t know they were operating in violation of the rule?” The answer is they did but it didn’t make any difference. Why should they be worried with the FDA’s long, extensive track record of lenient enforcement against big businesses?
    Besides, they don’t have to worry about the news media raising trouble because they understand the “48 hour news cycle” and they know that almost all of the big name “consumer advocates” have been “in bed with the FDA” for the last several years and, as shown above, and will begin immediately providing the FDA (and, consequently the business, cover.
    Is Food Safety News going break that pattern? Is FSN actually going to do the work that its publisher, Bill Marler, has so loudly declared its mission?
    This article is a small step in the right direction but; considering the fact that FSN has, once again, published “Doc Mudd’s” usual anonymous dissembling, I doubt it.