In the official documents piling up over the nationwide outbreak of Salmonella, Austin J. “Jack” DeCoster, who may be the nation’s No. 1 egg producer, is getting only the obligatory warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, Gary Bartness at Hillandale Farms got a much nicer letter from FDA, one that gives permission to resume distribution of eggs for the table market.  The New Hampton, IA farm began sales Monday.


The letter to DeCoster, however, identifies serious deviations from FDA’s regulation on the safety of shell eggs with respect to bio-security, rodent control and other measures.  The letter also finds that the eggs at Quality Egg LLC are adulterated because they have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions.  

The letter warns: “Failure to take prompt corrective action may result in regulatory action being initiated by the Food and Drug Administration without further notice.  These actions include, but are not limited to, seizure and/or injunction.” 

The letter to Hillandale Farms, granting permission to ship eggs to the table market from three of its egg-producing houses, was based upon a thorough review of the company’s response to the inspectional observations noted by the FDA in August.  In addition, the three houses have been extensively tested and no evidence of Salmonella contamination was found. 

Four other houses overseen by Hillandale are undergoing further testing before consideration for shipping.  Hillandale Farms has also committed to an enhanced surveillance program for Salmonella. 

DeCoster’s Galt, IA-based Quality Egg LLC  was at the center of the Salmonella enteritidis (SE) outbreak dating back to April, which eventually prompted the late summer recall of 550 million shell eggs.  

The Oct. 15 warning letter tracks the contents of FDA’s 483 Inspectional Observations that were previously released. 

And while it threatens “seizure and or/injunction,” it also notes there are “ongoing discussions” between FDA and DeCoster about “corrective actions.”


“We acknowledge your commitment to correcting the deviations and will verify your corrections via inspection,” writes John W. Thorsky, the FDA’s Kansas City district director, who also signed the letter allow Hillandale to again sell eggs.

Quality Egg at Galt and Hillandale Farms at New Hampton, are located about 100 miles from one another in central Iowa.  Together, they were responsible for the largest recall of shell eggs in U.S. history.

FDA inspected the feed mill and egg-laying facilities that Quality Egg operates at Galt, Clarion, and Dows–all in Iowa–finding Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in egg barns and feed samples.  It found SE “in a feed ingredient, as well as finished feed, stored in your feed mill.”

And, as FDA previously disclosed, finished feed from that mill was provided to pullets that were raised in Decoster egg facilities and those pullets were then distributed to both Quality Egg and Hillandale Farm.  FDA has not found any feed that went any where other than those two facilities. 

In testimony to Congress, DeCoster and son, Peter, said they suspected the SE contamination might have originated in a bone meal ingredient they sourced for their chicken feed. (Invitations to Hillandale to testify before Congress went unanswered.)

Among the conditions FDA found at Galt that were inconsistent with various sections of DeCoster’s biosecurity plan were:

  • Wild birds inside the egg-laying houses

  • Rodent burrows along second floor baseboards

  • Standing water in the manure pits

  • Uncaged chickens observed in laying house

  • Entrance door blocked “with excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits”

  • Mice and flies in the laying houses

  • Live and dead maggots “too numerous to count” on the manure pit floor

“You should take prompt and aggressive actions to eliminate Salmonella enteritidis contamination and the observations described in this letter, ” Thorsky wrote.  

There has been nothing new on the outbreak since Sept. 20, almost one month ago.  At that time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said the SE outbreak from May 1 to Sept. 14 was responsible for 2,752 illnesses in 10 states.

Local health officials said 26 restaurants or other clusters were included in the SE outbreak.