The Egg Recall of 2010
Posted on October 13, 2010
In the summer of 2010, American consumers were once again struck by a food poisoning outbreak. This time it was eggs contaminated with salmonella. In this egg recall, over half a billion eggs were taken off the shelves. So far, there have been over 1,300 reported cases of salmonella linked to the contaminated product.
The suspected sources in this outbreak are two farms in Iowa, Hillandale Farms and Wright County Eggs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still investigating the actual source of the salmonella, but it looks like anything from unclean conditions (rodents and feces in the layer houses) to contaminated feed are being explored.
However, the FDA, which is responsible for inspecting egg plants, is also coming under fire for their apparent lack of oversight or power. The articles I’ve read are a little contradictory, but it looks like the FDA has either never inspected the farms involved, overlooked glaring errors or didn’t do anything about repeat offenses. Either way, the conditions at the farms were horrendous – insects, dead chickens and piles of manure in the hen houses – so something is wrong with the oversight.
How to Prevent this From Happening Again
The big question for egg consumers and producers alike is what can be done to prevent this from happening again? Here are some of the suggestions on the table:
- More regulations. A seemingly easy/quick fix is to pass more laws. However, these filthy farms were in violation of health and safety laws already in place, so it’s logical to assume that harsher laws aren’t going to do the trick.
- Give the FDA recall authority. Currently, the FDA can only suggest farms do a recall. If the FDA can order eggs pulled off the shelf, there’s a better chance of preventing those dangerous eggs (and other foods) from reaching the consumer.
- Break up factory farms. If one large-scale factory farm ships contaminated food (as is the case here) more people will be affected. For smaller farms, fewer people will be affected, and it will be easier to trace the source. Plus, the argument is smaller farms are more likely to be interested in actual animal husbandry as opposed to producing a product.
- Vaccinate the chickens. There are vaccines against salmonella for chickens that are widely used in Britain and are very affective. The vaccination costs less than a dollar per chicken and should be worth it in light of expensive recalls.
- Harsher penalties for offenders. The owner of Wright County Eggs has been sited for health and safety violations repeatedly over the past 30 years. Why is this guy still in business? When some of the violations include sweatshop-type working conditions, he should be in the slammer.
- Eat organic and free-range eggs. Free-range eggs are supposed to come from chickens that run around in a field as opposed to being crammed into tiny cages and possibly wallowing in their own feces, which were the living conditions of the Hillandale Farms and Wright County Eggs chickens. Organic living conditions are better for the chickens and the eggs they lay.
A Tip for Restaurant Owners
Once a recall occurs, the story is the same all across the affected area. Consumers and restaurants alike check their product plant numbers against a recall list. This is a reactive approach. The proactive way for restaurant owners is to know your suppliers. It may take a little bit of homework, but checking an operation’s inspection history will let you know if they’re shipping potentially dangerous food. The reports should be available on your county health department’s website, but you could always ask. These days, a lot of restaurant goers check inspection reports or restaurant reviews before eating out. Shouldn’t you do the same of your suppliers?