The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is going to require a big finish, but it apparently remains on target to complete new egg rule inspections of all 517 American egg producers with 50,000 or more laying hens by Dec.  31.

In a recently released summary of its progress, FDA disclosed that it has more than 100 of its own inspectors on the egg rule beat and that it has signed up 10 states that are providing additional expertise to get the job done.

When the new egg rule took effect in July 2010 with the goal of preventing Salmonella Enteriditis (SE) in table eggs, FDA’s register of large producers totaled 604. However, because of large farms that went out of business or cancelled their registrations, the list was cut by 87.

Through the first three quarters of 2011, FDA has completed 41 “comprehensive” and 254 “targeted” inspections of shell egg production facilities. According to the agency, the only difference between the two types of inspections is that  the targeted inspections do not include environmental sampling.

With as many as 222 inspections left for the final quarter, which ends Dec. 31, it might seem like making the goal is a stretch. However, for the first time, FDA said it has inked contacts and off-loaded 136 inspections to Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.

FDA is left with 86 inspections to make its year-end goal, easily within the reach of its own inspection teams that typically number three to five per inspection. And FDA inspectors sometimes team up with state personnel as well.

FDA’s contracts with the states are only for targeted inspections, meaning no environmental samples are sent off to labs unless conditions they observe merit testing. A state expanding to a comprehensive sample-taking inspection apparently requires sign-off by FDA’s local district offices.

In the 41 comprehensive inspections, FDA has taken 2,056 swabs for laboratory analysis for SE contamination. Only 52 swabs, part of 22 samples collected from 10 farms, showed results positive for SE.

FDA says all farms with positive SE test results either were brought into compliance with the egg rule and implemented testing, or their eggs were diverted from the table egg market.

The new egg rule had barely gone into effect last year when two Iowa egg farms — both owned by agribusiness man “Jack” DeCoster — became responsible for the largest recall of shell eggs in U.S. history—more than one half billion eggs.

But after DeCoster was painted as rogue bad actor, several other top egg producers, including Rose Acre Farms and most recently Sparboe Farms, were found to be failing to meet egg rule requirements. McDonald’s and Target stopped buying eggs from Sparboe for its treatment of chickens, and Chicago-based Mercy for Animals said it would complain about the egg producer making false statements about how it treats its poultry.

In putting together its battle plan for the first time inspections under the new egg rule, FDA says it used an “at risk” approach to get to the 50 high risk farms first. It used risk criteria such as the number of laying hens, registration status, and past history of recalls, outbreaks, and even consumer complaints.

Most of the comprehensive inspections requiring environmental sampling have already been completed.

“Significant deviations” from the rule found during the first 295 inspections included:

– Lack of written SE prevention plan or significant requirements of that plan.

– Failure to environmentally test for SE during required time period.

– Failure to divert eggs or begin egg testing  after a positive environmental sample.

– Failure to implement the SE prevention plan.

– Failure to maintain required records

– Failure to monitor conditions required for the implementation of the plan.

Apparently, from counting work done in 2010, FDA went into the final quarter claiming to have inspected more than 300 table egg producers and completed 82 comprehensive inspections.

From May 1 to Nov. 30, 2010,  at least 1,939 people were infected with Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) from the contaminated eggs from DeCoster’s farms in Iowa. Many sued the egg producer and just as settlements were being reached last month, it was reported that DeCoster is getting out of the business.

Centrum Valley Farms is leasing the Iowa farms, and Land O’Lakes is taking over DeCoster’s Maine operations. In both cases,  DeCoster and his son, Peter, reportedly are out of any management role in the businesses taking over the egg production in the two states.

DeCoster, a native of the Maine town of Turner, was left with 100 laying hens when his father died and grew them into a chicken empire.