Medical Professionals Online

Disgusting Conditions At Egg Farms Linked To Salmonella Outbreak

September 04, 2017

Inspections of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms revealed horrendous hygiene conditions, with huge chicken manure heaps, live rodents, and wild birds within the hen houses of two farms. Conditions have been described as disgusting, stomach churning, repulsive, and shocking. The inspections were called after a nationwide recall of 500 million eggs suspected of being contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis.

Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is a bacterial disease of the intestinal tract. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that cause typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever and other illnesses. People become infected mostly through contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry and eggs. Salmonella is a gram-negative, rod-shaped bacilli that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. Put simply - Salmonella is a bacterium shaped like a rod with a cell wall composed of peptidoglycan. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), over 1,400 individuals have become ill with salmonellosis as a result of eating contaminated eggs. The CDC adds that this is the largest salmonellosis outbreak in the USA since the early 1970s.

The federal inspectors say they have identified several "unhealthy" conditions which may have contributed towards egg contamination in the Iowa farms. Apart from piles of manure, etc. in the hen houses, they also found dead maggots and live flies "crunched under foot" (Washington Post), the newspaper also reports on the FDA describing the hen houses as "bulging with manure".

Inspectors commented on holes and gaps in the structures, which allowed pests and vermin to enter the hen houses. Live rodents were frequently observed in the hen houses.

The initial FDA inspection found: 8-foot high chicken manure piles Caged chickens having contact with uncaged ones that had walked around on the manure piles Dead maggots, live flies, and dead flies. So many of them that it was impossible to make a count. Live rodents inside the hen houses Pigeons and other wild birds, and their feathers in the hen houses Rodent holes which had remained unsealed The sheer weight of manure piles pushing open outside pit doors What seemed to be "liquid manure" seeping through a concrete foundation The inspectors said that neither Wright Country Egg nor Hillandale Farms followed their bio-security plans, designed to reduce the transmission of pathogens (nasty organisms that cause disease). Wright County egg staff did not wear or change protective clothing when moving from one production house to another. Stomach churning Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director of CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) Food Safety Director, made this statement:

While it is really helpful that FDA is disclosing the results of their recent inspections of two facilities linked to a major illness outbreak from contaminated eggs, FDA's findings are truly stomach churning. FDA found rodents and wild birds in the facilities, and five of the Wright County Egg facilities had giant manure piles inside their buildings. These violations are reminiscent of similar findings in another major outbreak linked to peanut butter.

Equally troubling is that the inspections occurred the month following the date that the new egg-safety regulation went into effect. Both companies (Hillandale Farms and Quality Egg LLC (Wright County Egg) involved had been on notice that they needed to meet requirements of the new egg-safety rule for over a year. Instead of finding companies that were ready to meet those requirements, FDA's inspections document companies with long-standing violations and apparently little intention to comply. The decrepit conditions in these hen houses reflect the fact that companies know that FDA inspections are so rare - even following the adoption of a new safety regulation - that there is no urgency to fix their buildings and their operations to assure compliance with FDA statutes and regulations. A history of violations According to The Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Jack DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, has a history of environmental, labor and immigration violations at egg operations.

FDA Inspectors Report (PDF)

Sources: FDA, CDC, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Washington Post, The Iowa Independent, CSPI.