WASHINGTON – An Iowa egg producer involved in the biggest egg recall in U.S. history received a positive test result for Salmonella Enteriditis on Aug. 4, more than a week before the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the bacteria’s presence and pressed the company to launch the recall, according to records released Tuesday by congressional investigators.
The records also indicate that testing at Wright County Egg found more than 400 positive tests for salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella Enteriditis – the strain responsible for the current outbreak – in the two years leading up to the recall.
A determination on whether those 73 additional samples were in fact positive for Salmonella Enteriditis could not be made immediately because Wright County Egg owner Austin “Jack” DeCoster did not initially produce the test records despite a request, and has yet to completely hand over documents, said a spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Records produced so far do not show whether DeCoster took action in response to the test results. They also do not indicate if eggs had been contaminated with salmonella long before the recall, and if so, what became of them.
The testing was part of a voluntary internal company program to control pathogens and was conducted for Wright County Egg by the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University.
In a statement, Wright County Egg said it is “our absolute intention to fully respond” to document requests and that the company’s production of records is continuing.
Tuesday’s partial record release adds to a disturbing picture of a company unable to meet basic food safety standards – though the FDA also has acknowledged that it did not inspect either Wright County Egg, located in Galt, Iowa, or the second firm involved in the recall, Hillandale Farms of Iowa.
Federal inspections completed after the recall was launched confirmed the presence of Salmonella Enteriditis in Wright County Egg facilities and in feed used by chickens in both operations.
Inspections also showed rodents crawling up massive manure piles and flies and maggots “too numerous to count” at Wright County Egg facilities.
The Justice Department and FDA have launched a criminal investigation into the distribution of the contaminated eggs.
DeCoster’s failure to produce the testing records was noted in a letter from Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who are leading a House inquiry.
“We are concerned … that you did not inform the Committee of the potentially positive Salmonella enteriditis test results. We ask that you produce these test results and all other responsive documents,” the letter said.
Under FDA pressure, Wright County Egg announced an egg recall on Aug. 13, and Hillandale Farms followed suit days later.
About 550 million eggs have been pulled from the market and more than 1,500 people have been sickened from eating contaminated eggs, according to federal health authorities.