Investigators follow egg farm ties in Salmonella outbreak probe

Aug 23, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – With the number of recalled eggs reaching 500 million, federal officials said they have received reports of 40 more illnesses and that investigators are exploring shared links that the two Iowa companies had for their feed and chicks.

Margaret Hamburg, MD, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, told reporters at a press conference today that there are more than 20 investigators at locations in Iowa investigating the Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) linked to two of the state's egg producers, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. She said so far there is no evidence implicating any other farms.

Hamburg called the SE outbreak's timing, coming about a month after sweeping new federal egg safety rules went into effect, an "unfortunate coincidence." She said the outbreaks might have been prevented if the rules, which enable FDA authorities to inspect farms to ensure that they are following the new standards, went into effect sooner.

She said the outbreak events should press Congress to quickly pass the pending Food Safety Modernization Act, which would give federal officials more critical tools, such as traceback powers and the authority to access company records, to improve the safety of the nation's food supply. The US House of Representatives passed the bill in July 2009, but it awaits a vote on the floor of the Senate.

Dr Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner of food protection in the FDA's Office of Foods, said though the investigation could stretch into next week, FDA officials will probably issue their initial observations sometime this week in an FDA form 483 report. Currently FDA investigators are completing their initial investigation of eight pullet-rearing sites that each contain several barns near the Wright County Egg operations in Galt, Iowa, and an environmental assessment at Hillandale Farms in New Hampton, Iowa, about 100 miles northeast of Galt.

Last week the Minnesota Department of Health linked seven SE illnesses to eggs produced by Hillandale Farms, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Aug 20. The cases were found during an illness cluster in May that was linked to a restaurant in Bemidji.

Farrar said the US Department of Agriculture has determined that both farms get their chicks from a hatching operation in Minnesota that has been certified SE-free since 1989. He said the two companies also share a feed source, Quality Egg, which is part of the Wright County Egg family of companies. He said investigators are collecting feed samples from Quality Egg and are submitting them for testing.

Several samples have been taken at the investigation sites, and results are pending, he said.

Christopher Braden, MD, acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) division of foodborne, waterborne, and environmental diseases at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told reporters that the CDC expects to receive more reports of SE illnesses linked to the outbreak and has received 40 more since its last update on Aug 19.

He said so far health officials have not identified any more illness clusters that would implicate more egg producers. "We want to make sure we're not missing any additional sources or eggs or other product," he said.

In other developments, two more egg distributors—both located in California—have recalled the eggs they received from the two egg producers. On Aug 20, Luberski, Inc., based in Fullerton, recalled eggs produced by Wright County Egg from late July through the middle of August. Luberski supplied the eggs to wholesalers, retail centers, and foodservice companies in California and Nevada.

The recall does not apply to retail carton eggs but includes 20- and 30-egg overwrap and loose 15-egg units under the following brand names: CRF, Alta Dena Dairy, Driftwood Dairy, Hidden Villa Ranch, and Challenge Dairy. The recall notice said that the FDA and CDC have reported confirmed cases linked to the eggs and that traceback investigations are ongoing.

Meanwhile, Moark, LLC, based in Fontana, yesterday recalled about 24,300 dozen eggs that it received from Hillandale Farms. The eggs were produced on Jul 6 and were distributed in southern California and Las Vegas, Nev. In a recall notice, Moark said it repackaged the eggs for retail sale under the brand names Albertsons, Yucaipa Valley, Farmer's Gems, and Mountain Dairy. It also sold unbranded eggs to foodservice customers

See also:

Aug 20 Star Tribune report

Aug 20 Luberski, Inc, recall notice

Aug 22 Moark, LLC, recall notice

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