The number of eggs recalled in a US salmonella scare from two Iowa egg producers has grown to more than half a billion.
Iowa egg producer Hillandale Farms of Iowa is voluntarily recalling some 170.4 million eggs distributed to stores and companies that service, or are located in, 14 states, a spokeswoman at the Egg Safety Center said on Friday.
The salmonella outbreak prompted Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, which began recalling eggs last week, to increase its recall to 380 million eggs on Wednesday.
The number of salmonella cases is expected to grow because infections after July 17 may not have been reported yet due to a two- to three-week lag between when a person becomes sick and when the case gets reported in the system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Largest in history
"We would certainly characterize this as one of the largest shell egg recalls in recent history," Sherri McGarry of the Food and Drug Administration said.
On July 9, the FDA announced it had new safety rules for large-scale egg producers, but that came after the salmonella outbreak apparently began.
"The outbreak could have been prevented." McGarry said. "The egg safety rule is in a phase-in approach, but there are measures that would have been in place that could have prevented this if it [had] been placed earlier than in July."
The FDA's new rules cover refrigeration of stored and transported eggs, pasteurization, rodent control, cleanliness and they require a written Salmonella enteritidis prevention plan.
The agency said "implementing the preventive measures would reduce the number of Salmonella enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60%."
Source still unknown
After the increase in salmonella infections, the CDC and the FDA traced the source and determined it was most likely eggs from Wright County Egg. The company says it is working to determine how the shell eggs are being contaminated.
The Iowa firms involved both are linked to businessman Austin "Jack" DeCoster. He's been cited for numerous health, safety and employment violations over the years.
In June DeCoster pleaded guilty to 10 civil counts of animal cruelty over his company's treatment of its chickens, said Dr. Donald E. Hoenig, state veterinarian. DeCoster and his company agreed to a $25,000 fine and made a $100,000 payment to reimburse the state for future monitoring of the facility.
DeCoster owns Wright County Egg, and also the company Quality Egg, which supplies young chickens and feed to Hillendale Farms.
Increase in cases
The ongoing salmonella outbreak from eggs may have sickened about 1,300 people from May to July, officials from the CDC said.
Health officials have reports of at least 1,953 cases from May through July 17, a period when there are normally only about 700 cases.
Pasteurised egg production up
Chicago-based National Pasteurized Eggs ramped up production of its industry-leading salmonella-free Davidson's Safest Choice Pasteurized Shell Eggs due to the egg recall.
Already the nation's leading pasteurizer of in-shell eggs, National Pasteurized Eggs produces thousands of eggs daily out of plants in suburban Chicago and eastern South Dakota.
NPE pasteurizes eggs via an all-natural, patented process recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inactivate Salmonella and the Avian Influenza Virus.