Since last August when his egg production was found to be the likely source of a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), “Jack” DeCoster has not been allowed to sell so much as a single egg from any of his six Iowa farms.
Yesterday that all changed.
In a five-page letter to DeCoster, the Food and Drug Administration gave Wright County Egg (WCE) its concurrence for the shipment of eggs to the table market from two laying houses.
For the first time since the outbreak infected nearly 2,000 people and led to a recall of more than one half billion table eggs, DeCoster is back in business in Iowa.
“During the outbreak, I said that FDA would not agree to the sale of eggs to consumers from Wright County Egg until we had confidence that they could be shipped and consumed safely,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg. “After four months of intensive work by the company and oversight, testing, and inspections by FDA, I am satisfied that time has come.”
DeCoster, according to FDA, has taken sufficient “corrective actions” to warrant a resumption in egg sales.
With multiple operations, DeCoster is one of the largest shell egg producers in the U.S. Long the center of controversy, Iowa labeled him as habitual offender of environmental laws.
The letter said FDA and WCE investigated “plausible pathways” to the contamination including: contaminated feed, infected pullets, contaminated laying environment, and rodents contaminating feed and laying houses.
Corrective measures were taken to address each pathway.
The feed mill was cleaned and disinfected, structural defects corrected, and birds, rodents, and insects were controlled. A testing program for the feed was set up.
The layer houses were depopulated, and only chicks from breeder flocks monitored for Salmonella Enteritidis were used to repopulate the pullet houses.
Both chick papers and hatchery trays were tested for Salmonella. Pullets are being tested at 14 to 16 weeks of age. A vaccine will be administered using a green dye to chart its presence.
To protect the laying environment, Wright is implementing a biosecurity that addresses worker and equipment transfers between and among the laying houses and farms.
Wright reportedly has replaced missing doors and fixed other structural deficits, and cleaned out manure pits that made biosecurity problematic.
The egg producer has also employed a pest control firm to control rodents.
Wright has brought in Iowa State University for ongoing Salmonella testing.
“These extensive corrective actions address the significant contamination problems and support the resumption of distribution of eggs to the table market from these two hen houses,” said Don Kraemer, deputy director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition.
The eggs from these two houses and the house environments tested negative twice by FDA for SE and tested negative once by Wright County Egg. The firm will continue to test these houses monthly for the presence of SE.
Since October, FDA inspections of the Wright County Egg facilities have involved 13 investigators and more than 900 man hours. During the past six weeks at Wright County Egg, FDA collected and analyzed 40 feed samples, 236 environmental samples and 13,900 shell eggs.
FDA will continue to conduct environmental and egg sampling and will conduct periodic inspections to verify the effectiveness of the safety measures in place.
Corrective actions continue to be implemented for Wright County Egg’s remaining houses, operating on six farms.
The other egg producer involved in the SE outbreak and recall, Hillandale Farms, was given permission to resume egg sales about six weeks ago.