Salmonella investigation spurs expanded egg recall

Aug 19, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – In what federal officials are calling the largest egg recall in recent history, the company linked to clusters of Salmonella illnesses in several states yesterday expanded its recall to include about 380 million eggs.

At a news conference today, officials from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they have activated their emergency command center and that a team of at least 15 federal investigators is at Wright County Egg, based in Galt, Iowa, inspecting the facility and its records and taking samples to test for Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) that has been linked over the past few months to a fourfold national increase in illnesses.

Sherri McGarry, director of the Division of Public Health and Biostatistics at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters that the expanded recall is based on the latest findings from an ongoing traceback investigation that now links the possibly contaminated eggs to three of Wright County's five farms.

Yesterday's expanded recall notice increases the number of states where distributors, foodservice companies, or wholesalers received the recalled from 8 to 17. The eggs are packaged under several brand names: Albertsons, Farm Fresh, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralphs, Boomsma, Lund, Kemps, and Pacific Coast. Packages vary in size from 6-, 12-, and 18-egg cartons to loose eggs for institutional use and repackaging. The Julian dates that apply to the recalled eggs range from 136 to 229, which is 4 days later than the initial recall, meaning the recalled eggs were produced as late as Aug 17.

McGarry said the firm is cooperating with the investigation and recall efforts and that FDA officials will be doing recall-effectiveness checks to ensure that the products subject to the recall are not on store shelves.

Christopher Braden, MD, acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division of foodborne, waterborne, and environmental diseases at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told reporters that since April, 10 states have launched epidemiologic investigations linked to the SE illness increase. So far they have reported 26 restaurant events involving more than one ill person in which shell eggs were the likely source. He said preliminary investigations suggest that in 15 of the outbreaks, Wright County Egg supplied the eggs. Formal traceback investigations conducted by California, Colorado, and Minnesota found that shell eggs from five of the cluster events were from Wright County Egg.

In an outbreak investigation update today, the CDC said from May 1 to Jul 31 it received 1,953 SE infection reports, though not all may be related to outbreak linked to the egg recall. Over the last 5 years the CDC averages about 700 SE reports during the same time period.

Braden told CIDRAP News by e-mail today that no single food preparation trend stands out as officials explore the restaurant illness clusters. Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs appears to be a likely cause of many illnesses, but errors in food handling have also been noted in many clusters.

The CDC expects to receive more illness reports, Braden said. He said states are actively interviewing patients with SE infections as their cases are reported and are conducting epidemiologic and traceback investigations when they identify subclusters in which two or more patients with SE infections report eating at the same venue.

McGarry said at the press conference that she believes the new egg-safety regulations, which took effect Jul 9, could have reduced the risk of SE contamination at Wright County Egg. She said the new laws for the first time give the FDA the jurisdiction to inspect egg producers. A spokeswoman for United Egg Producers, an industry trade group, has said Wright County Egg complied with the FDA's new rules and has taken part in a voluntary industry quality-assurance initiative that mirrors some of the new egg safety rules.

She said investigators at the farm are awaiting the results of on-farm microbiological testing conducted at the company's facilities.

In a related development, Arizona health officials said that since the middle of May the state has received twice as many SE reports as usual, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. Joli Weiss, Arizona's foodborne illness epidemiologist, said investigators haven't been able to distinguish yet which are background cases and which might be linked to the recalled eggs. California, Colorado, and Minnesota are among other states that have reported restaurant clusters of SE illnesses.

Meanwhile, health officials in Kenosha County, Wis., are linking the recalled eggs to an SE outbreak in June that sickened 21 restaurant customers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday. One of the patients is a woman who was hospitalized after eating a Cobb salad, which typically contains boiled eggs, according to the report.

See also:

Aug 19 FDA recall notice

Aug 17 CIDRAP News story "More Salmonella cases linked to recalled eggs"

Aug 16 CIDRAP News story "Surge in Salmonella Enteritidis prompts egg recall"

Aug 19 Salmonella outbreak investigation update

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