Tuesday, August 24, 2010;
SALMONELLA enteritidis is a food-borne illness so common that the Food and Drug Administration moved last year to enact rules first proposed during the Bill Clinton administration. The new monitoring and safety requirements didn't go into effect until last month. That was too late to possibly prevent the more than 1,200 cases of the illness, in at least 22 states, that have been reported since May. No deaths have been reported. But this latest outbreak highlights once again that efforts to sew up the holes in the country's food safety net have gone nowhere for more than a year.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called it an "unfortunate irony" that the egg regulations became enforceable after the current outbreak was well underway. FDA investigators have zeroed in on two facilities in Iowa. Wright County Egg, owned by the DeCoster family, recalled 380 million eggs last week. Then, last Friday, Hillandale Farms, which has ties to the same family, recalled more than 170 million eggs that had been shipped to 14 states. The two companies shared the same supplier for young chickens and feed. And as The Post reported Sunday, the DeCoster family has a record of health, safety, labor and other violations that go back 20 years.
The new egg rules now apply to the two Iowa companies and other egg producers with 50,000 or more laying hens. Those facilities that do not pasteurize their eggs must create pest and rodent control measures to prevent the spread of salmonella by people and equipment. They also must write and maintain a salmonella enteritidis prevention plan and document their compliance. Tests for the bacteria must be conducted in the chicken house. Positive results would require the operator to conduct more tests over an eight-week period. If there are further positive results, the eggs would have to be treated to destroy the bacteria or shifted to nonfood uses. The hatchery would have to be cleaned and disinfected.
If there's a silver lining in the massive recall, it is that this latest outbreak of food-borne illness (remember peanuts, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, etc.) appears to have sparked action in the Senate, where comprehensive food-safety legislation has languished since July 2009. The bill would give the FDA the power to initiate a mandatory recall of contaminated products. And it would set up systems to trace food from farm to fork, thus making it easier and faster to pinpoint sources of contamination. A vote by the full Senate is expected as soon as it returns Sept. 13. In the meantime, go to http://www.foodsafety.gov to find out which brands of eggs are affected and what you can do to protect yourself.