Federal inspectors at the Iowa egg farms at the center of a nationwide recall of more than half a billion eggs said today that the Salmonella outbreak has been linked to contaminated feed, and their report provided a stomach-turning list of filthy conditions at the facilities.
FDA inspectors at farms owned by two big Iowa egg producers documented what can only be called disgusting conditions that they say are responsible for up to 1,500 cases of Salmonella poisoning.
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At Wright Egg and Quality Egg, part of the same complex, FDA inspectors found live mice inside the egg-laying houses, live and dead flies "too numerous to count," as well as live and dead maggots "too numerous to count," according to their report.
At Hillandale Farms, inspectors found 65 "unsealed rodent holes," as well as "liquid manure" streaming out of a gap in a door. They also found nearly 50 "un-caged hens tracking manure ... to the hen house area."
"This is shocking," said Dr. Michael Greger of the Humane Society of America. "It's an industry-wide practice that has to stop."
The strain of bacteria responsible for sickening so many, Salmonella enteritidis, affects the inside of an egg. The hen's ovaries become contaminated by the bacteria, passing the contaminant along to the whites and yoke of an egg as well as outside the shell.
The egg recall was announced in mid-August, but investigators have just now been able to identify a source for the bacterium. Eggs dating back to May were affected.
In a statement today, Wright County Egg said the "vast majority of the concerns" have already been addressed, though critics of the egg industry say they are emblematic of wider problems.
"It's the lack of sanitation in these massive factory farms that can lead to just the kind of food-borne illness problems that we're seeing," Greger said.
All three farms share business ties with egg baron Jack Decoster, whose companies have been charged with multiple violations over the years, including a $25,000 fine after undercover video revealed poor treatment of hens at a farm he owns in Maine.
The FDA inspections are the first since new standards took effect in July. Now, the agency has ordered inspectors to return to all of the biggest egg producers in the hopes of preventing another dangerous outbreak.