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The feed and filth behind egg recall

The recall of hundreds of millions of eggs contaminated by salmonella from two Iowa producers — Wright County Egg in Galt, and Hillandale Farms in New Hampton — illustrate how bad apples can spoil an industry.

Key Points

• DeCoster, of Wright County Eggs, has a rather lengthy rap sheet.

• The FDA found salmonella in chicken feed at both Iowa farms.

• California eggs have been salmonella-free for ten years.


Austin “Jack” DeCoster of Wright County Egg has a long rap sheet. A few examples:

• In June 2010, his Maine Contract Farming agreed to pay $25,000 in penalties and a $100,000 fine to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations.

• In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a $1.5 million settlement of a lawsuit against Wright County Egg on behalf of female employees who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment.

• In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a “habitual violator” of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff into waterways.

Inspection results

When the Food and Drug Administration finally inspected these Iowa farms, it found violations. Here is just one entry from each inspection sheet obtained by California Farmer:

For Wright County Egg: “Chicken manure located in the manure pits below the egglaying operation was observed to be approximately 4 feet high to 8 feet at the following locations: Layer 1 - House 1; Layer 3 - Houses 2, 7, 17 and 18. The outside access to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.”

For Hillandale Farms of Iowa: “At West Union House 8, there were 26 unsealed rodent holes of the south wall of the house. In addition, there were 5 unsealed rodent holes on the east side of the house.”

“FDA’s findings are truly stomach-churning,” says Caroline Smith DeWaal, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s food safety director. “Equally troubling is that the inspections occurred the month following the date that the new egg-safety regulation went into effect.”

Rendered feed

There is also confusion about the role feed played in the contamination, as FDA found salmonella in chicken feed at both farms provided by Central Bi-Products of Redwood Falls, Minn. The firm is a full-service rendering company that heats rendered bonemeal and meat to kill any bacteria. The FDA says it doesn’t know if the feed was contaminated after it was delivered. Readers, however, will recall that rendered pet and livestock feed were linked to mad cow disease.

The good news is that a new national Harvard School of Public Health pool found most Americans were aware of the outbreak and took protective steps.

Awareness of the egg recall was very high, with 84% of the public having heard about it. The vast majority (92%) report they eat eggs at least occasionally. About a third of these stopped eating eggs they thought were involved in the recall, while 14% stopped eating eggs altogether. Of those who eat eggs in restaurants (61%), nearly one in five stopped doing so. About 25% reported cooking eggs longer.

California eggs safe

California-produced eggs have been free of Salmonella enteritidis for more than ten years. “The California Egg Quality Assurance Program [CEQAP] is the country’s most stringent quality control program designed to ensure the safety and quality of California-produced eggs, and its success proves it is,” says Arnie Riebli, Association of California Egg Farmers president. The California program was implemented back in 1995.

CEQAP is comprised of 20 components which must be met and includes review of egg operations by California Department of Food and Agriculture veterinarians to ensure compliance. The program requires five Salmonella enteridis tests (FDA only requires three).

The voluntary program involves 95% of the state’s egg producers.

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COOLING SOLUTION: Kevin Keener at Purdue University developed a rapid egg-cooling system. It uses circulated carbon dioxide to create a thin layer of ice inside an egg’s shell that cools the inside of an egg within minutes, preventing contamination.

Photo by Keith Robinson, Purdue Agricultural Communication

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of CALIFORNIA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.