US company that sickened thousands knew eggs contained Salmonella
In a letter to the company’s owner, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said its investigators had obtained records showing Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for salmonella between 2008 and 2010. The company recalled 380 million eggs in August after its products were linked to hundreds of illnesses.
The committee said the positive results found over the last two years included 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella Enteritidis, the strain responsible for the recent outbreak.
The owner of Wright County Egg, Austin “Jack” DeCoster, is scheduled to testify before the panel next week. A company spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the letter to DeCoster, committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and investigations subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said they were concerned that DeCoster did not inform them of the positive results when the panel asked him to provide documents in August. One of the questions the panel asked DeCoster was to show dates and results of all positive findings after microbiological testing.
“When you testify before the committee, we ask that you come prepared to explain why your facilities tested potentially positive for Salmonella Enteritidis contamination on so many occasions, what steps you took to address the contamination identified in these test results, and whether you shared these results with FDA or other federal or state food safety officials,” Waxman and Stupak wrote.
According to the committee, the company received as many as 67 positive results this year alone. That includes one positive result for Salmonella Enteritidis on July 26, less than three weeks before the company recalled the eggs. The recall eventually grew to a half-million eggs and included another company, Hillandale Farms, that also has ties to DeCoster.
The letter does not say how the committee obtained the results or from whom. The testing appears to have been done by a veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Iowa State University, which is listed on reports of the results released by the committee. A spokesman for the laboratory was not immediately available for comment.
The reports also say the results were forwarded to the Agriculture Department’sNational Veterinary Services Laboratories. A USDA spokesman also did not have an immediate comment on the report.
DeCoster is no stranger to tangling with the government. He has paid millions of dollars in state and federal fines over the years for health, safety, immigration and environmental violations at his farms.
The specific cause of the outbreak is still unknown. Reports released last month by the FDA show many different possible sources of contamination at both farms, including rodent, bug and wild bird infestation, uncontained manure, holes in walls and other problems that could have led to the outbreak. The FDA also found positive samples of Salmonella Enteritidis.
No deaths have been reported due to the outbreak, but the number of illnesses — which can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems — could still increase.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said this is the largest outbreak of this strain of salmonella since the start of the agency’s surveillance of outbreaks in the late 1970s. For every case reported, there may be 30 that are unreported, the CDC said.
Thoroughly cooking eggs can kill the bacteria, but health officials recommended that people throw away or return the recalled eggs.
Mochila insert follows…