FDA says 2 egg farms violated standards

Possible sources of contamination numerous in Iowa

Live rodents were spotted at Wright County Egg. As salmonella originates from feces, access to wildlife is a concern. Live rodents were spotted at Wright County Egg. As salmonella originates from feces, access to wildlife is a concern. (Ryan J. Foley/ Associated Press)
By Mary Clare Jalonick
Associated Press / August 31, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Food and Drug Administration investigators have found rodents, seeping manure, and even maggots at the Iowa egg farms believed to be responsible for as many as 1,500 cases of salmonella poisoning.

FDA officials released their initial observations of the investigations at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms yesterday. The two farms recalled more than half a billion eggs after salmonella illnesses were linked to their products earlier this month.

The reports 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 caused the outbreak. Several positive samples of salmonella have been found at both farms.

The agency released the initial observations as their investigations concluded yesterday. Officials said they still cannot speculate on the cause of the outbreak but said the farms not only violated their own standards but also new egg rules put in place this summer.

Among the observations of the investigators:

■ Live rodents and mice at both farms;

■ Structural damage and holes in many locations at both farms, allowing wildlife access;

■ Escaped chickens tracking manure through the houses;

■ Employees not changing clothing properly when moving from one location to another and not sanitizing equipment properly;

■ Dead and live maggots “too numerous to count’’ on the manure pit floor in one location at Wright County Egg;

■ Manure piled 4 to 8 feet high in five locations at Wright County Egg, pushing open doors that allowed wildlife to enter the laying houses;

■ Nonchicken feathers in a laying house and wild birds flying in and out of two facilities at Wright County Egg;

■ Manure seeping through the foundation to the outside of laying houses in 13 locations at Wright County Egg;

■ Rusted holes in feed bins and birds flying over the feed bins at Wright County Egg.

Animal feces and access to wildlife are normally the main concern of investigators looking for causes of an outbreak, as illnesses such as salmonella originate from feces.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said in a briefing for reporters that the agency cannot say how these conditions compare with other egg farms around the country but he believes they are “significant deviations from what is expected.’’

The agency has not traditionally inspected egg farms until there has been a problem. But the FDA will inspect all of the nation’s largest farms by the end of next year, the Obama administration announced last week.