During the past three weeks public health officers confirmed another two dozen people with Salmonella Enteritidis infections in an outbreak traced to cage-free eggs from Gravel Ridge Farms.

Federal and state officials continue to express concern that consumers might have unused Gravel Ridge Farms eggs that have been recalled, especially because some are marked with an Oct. 3 best-by date. Restaurants are also encouraged to double check their egg supplies. Gravel Ridge recalled its eggs Sept. 8 because of the outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday that there are now 38 people across seven states with confirmed infections. One-third of patients have had symptoms so severe that they had to be admitted to hospitals. The infected people range in age from 1 to 94 years old. They reported symptom onset dates between June 17 and Aug. 16.

Additional people are likely to be confirmed as outbreak patients because of the two- to four-week lag time between when people become ill and when their lab-confirmed infections are reported to the CDC. In a Sept. 8 statement the agency reported a total of 14 confirmed outbreak patients in Alabama and Tennessee. New states added to the outbreak map this week are Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Montana.

Of the patients interviewed by outbreak investigators through Oct. 1, three out of four reported eating egg dishes at restaurants before they became ill. Traceback investigators found Gravel Ridge Farms supplied the restaurants’ shell eggs, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Patients’ lab tests show their infections were caused by Salmonella that has the same DNA fingerprint as Salmonella isolated from Gravel Ridge eggs and the company’s Cullman, AL, farm, according to the CDC and the FDA.

“The FDA is advising consumers not to eat recalled shell eggs produced by Gravel Ridge Farms. Consumers who have purchased these products should discard the eggs or return them to the store for a refund,” the agency warned in an investigation update released yesterday.

“If any consumers have Gravel Ridge Farms eggs in their refrigerator, they should throw them out, regardless of the date stamped on the package.”

Gravel Ridge Farms distributed the recalled eggs from June 25 through Sept. 6. The company packaged the eggs in cardboard containers and in flats and sold them primarily to restaurants and retail stores in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, according to the FDA.

Advice for consumers
Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled eggs and developed symptoms of food poisoning should seek medical attention. Ill people should tell their doctors of the possible exposure to Salmonella so specific tests can be performed for accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses, including Salmonella, can include diarrhea that is often bloody, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Some people also develop fevers when they have salmonellosis, the infection caused by Salmonella bacteria.

People who are otherwise healthy usually recover within a few days. Other people are at high-risk of developing serious and sometimes life-threatening illnesses. High-risk groups include young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.

“Even if some eggs were eaten and no one got sick, do not eat them. Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where recalled eggs were stored. Follow these five steps to clean your refrigerator,” the CDC outbreak notice says.

Consumers and restaurants should always handle and cook eggs safely, the CDC advised, to avoid foodborne illness from raw eggs. It is important to handle and prepare all fresh eggs and egg products carefully:

  • Eggs should be cooked until both the yolk and white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny. Egg dishes such as casseroles and quiches should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F or hotter.
  • Make sure that foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as eggs over easy or hollandaise sauce, are made only with pasteurized eggs. Pasteurization kills disease-causing germs.
  • Wash hands and items that came into contact with raw eggs — including countertops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards — with soap and water.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)