None of the 300 million dozen shell eggs produced annually by Sparboe Farms are being sold anymore under those Golden Arches. And Target stores began pulling Sparboe eggs from its store shelves late Friday.
Just before the ABC News Magazine 20/20 aired a segment Friday night on the alleged 13 food safety violations at Sparboe Farms, McDonald’s announced it would no longer be buying eggs from the nation’s fifth largest shell egg producer. It was by far the fast-food chain’s largest supplier.
Target followed suit several hours later. No formal recall has been ordered.
Sparboe was depicted on ABC’s 20/20 through undercover video shot by the Mercy for Animals charity showing both animal cruelty and unsanitary practices. Violations cited in a Nov. 16 warning letter, released on the eve of the 20/20 broadcast, cover Sparboe egg production facilities in Goodell, Humboldt, and Britt, IA; Hudson, CO, and Litchfield, MN.
In the letter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the violations are significant and David Acheson, the former associate FDA commissioner for food safety, told ABC the Sparboe situation is “a systemic problem.”
A large purchaser of shell eggs, who asked not to be identified, told Food Safety News that Sparboe is “just another example” of a top egg producer not taking necessary precautions at the farm level.
Enforcement of a new egg rule has been underway by FDA since July 2010, but progress has been slow and setbacks have been many. The enforcement had not even really begun when a nationwide Salmonella outbreak sickened almost 2,000 and led to the largest egg recall in U.S. history, over one-half billion shell eggs.
Conditions at the two producers found responsible, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, fell well below egg rule standards and for a time those producers were prohibited from selling eggs.
In the last year, numerous other large shell egg producers have been found with multiple violations of the new standards.
In halting purchases from Sparboe Farms, McDonald’s released a statement saying it found the report revealed “significant and serious violations.” The fast food outlet may also have wanted to stem the use of a “Mercy for Animals” fund-raising video that ties chicken cruelty to McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, a breakfast entree.
“McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner,” the statement said.
FDA inspected Sparboe’s production units last April and May. Mercy for Animals planted its undercover video cameras there during the summer. Much of what they filmed — dead rats, insects, and dead, decaying chickens — are violations of the egg rule’s provisions to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis.
Employees — since fired, according to Sparboe — were shown throwing chickens and grabbing them by their necks in obvious acts of intentional cruelty.
Rodents and flies — which lead to maggots — are prominently mentioned in the violations cited by FDA at the various Sparboe units. Among the other violations are charges that Sparboe failed to do required environmental testing for SE, did not remove vegetation and debris from outside poultry houses that often serve as “harborage for pests,” and failed to protect against cross contamination by people moving between poultry houses.
Not keeping wild birds out of poultry houses, by not maintaining bird netting or fixing louvers. was another violation cited at different locations.
Except for the number of violations and the multiple locations involved, the FDA warning letter is fairly routine. Sparboe has 15 business days to respond to the letter. FDA acknowledges that egg testing by the company at the Litchfield, MN facility turned out to be negative, even through sampling had indicated there was SE in the poultry house.