Egg Salmonella Outbreak Prompts Criminal Probe

Criminal investigators have now joined a probe into Wright County Egg, one of two Iowa egg producers linked to a national outbreak of <"">Salmonella. According to The Wall Street Journal, Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Comissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg has confirmed that the criminal division of her agency, as well as the Justice Department, are part of the investigation.

Hamburg would not say if Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents have visited any of Wright County Egg’s facilities. She referred further questions to the U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but according to the Journal, that office couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hillandale Farms, also of Iowa, and Wright County Egg have between them recalled more than half a million shell eggs since mid-August. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 1,470 reported illnesses are likely to be associated with the multi-state Salmonella outbreak.

As we reported previously, the FDA has released reports on Wright County Egg, its parent company, Quality Egg, and Hillandale Farms that detailed sanitation problems at the producers’ facilities. The strain of Salmonella involved in the outbreak was identified in samples of Wright’s chicken feed and in a few places on the farm. The inspection also uncovered storage bins for feed and feed ingredients that had multiple problems which could have led to Salmonella contamination.

It was also learned yesterday that FDA inspectors had visited Central Bi-Products, part of Farmers Union Industries. Central Bi-Products produced bone meal, which Wright County Egg used as an ingredient in its feed. The inspectors visited Farmers Union Industries’ offices in Redwood Falls on Tuesday, and yesterday inspected a rendering plant in Long Prairie, Minnesota that produced the bone meal.

In other developments, egg inspectors for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are coming under fire for their role in the Salmonella debacle. According to USA Today, USDA staff were regularly on site at both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms prior to the outbreak and recalls. As part of an industry-paid program, the USDA egg graders were at the producers facilities at least 40 hours per week inspecting the size and quality of eggs inside processing buildings.

But according to USA Today, such inspectors only look for vermin inside the specific processing building where they are based. Though USDA regulations say buildings and “outside premises” must be free of conditions that harbor vermin, it considers outside premises as only the area immediately around the processing building’s loading dock and trash receptacle, the report said. Such inspectors have no authority to look at the laying barns, even though they are connected to the processing facilities.

According to USA Today, it is not known if the USDA inspectors identified any issues in the areas of the facilities they are responsible for, and their inspection reports are still being reviewed.

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