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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued its latest update on the foodborne illness outbreak attributed to Salmonella eggs, adding 12 more ill people from five states.
The case count is now up to 35 people in nine states. Eleven victims have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths.
Illnesses started on dates ranging from last Nov. 16 to April 14. Victims range in age from 1 year old to 90 years old, and the median age is 65.
The CDC says that any illnesses that have occurred after March 23 might not yet be reported because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with Salmonella and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of two to four weeks.
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
In some cases, however, diarrhea can become so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. For these patients, the infection might spread to the blood stream. When this happens, Salmonella can cause death, unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
200 million recalled
The Salmonella outbreak prompted an April 13 recall of more than 206 million eggs by Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, IN. Company officials said they initiated the recall after at least 22 people became sick on the East Coast, illnesses that were traced to the company’s Hyde County production facility in North Carolina.
The potentially Salmonella-contaminated eggs were sold in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The affected egg cartons have the Julian date range of 011 through 102 printed on them. Brand names and UPC codes can be found here.
Ugly picture revealed
A recent report by IndyStar painted an unflattering portrait of the roles played by Rose Acre Farms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in this Salmonella outbreak.
Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County facility produces more than 2 million eggs daily, under the watchful eye of a USDA grader. The report states that the grader is supposed to be at the farm every day.
The IndyStar, however, asked the question: If a USDA grader is on the premises daily, why did it take a Salmonella outbreak to alert officials to problems?
A spokesperson for the USDA told IndyStar, the online arm of the Indianapolis Star, that a grader’s usual day involves checking equipment before operations begin. Problems are addressed at that point. The grader then enters the grading booth to inspect eggs.
“In this instance, our grader(s) did not observe issues that would have triggered a report to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) inspectors,” the spokesperson informed IndyStar in an email.
The report goes on to say that, according to an egg-grading manual produced by the USDA, graders must “continually monitor product handling and general condition of equipment, and housekeeping throughout the (egg processing) facility” and “identify sanitation problems requiring corrective action.”
That might have applied to Rose Acre Farms, where numerous violations were made in the processing building.
FDA inspectors began visiting the farm after the Salmonella outbreak started making news. The report states that inspectors discovered the procedure for cleaning the egg “orientor” was not being done. In addition:
- Employees were observed “cutting corners” while washing eggs.
- Water from the “ceilings, pipes and down walls” was seen dripping onto production equipment.
- Dried eggs and shells were accumulating in the same areas over numerous days.
Other violations also were noted, including excessive rodent activity, but those were seen in hen houses, where graders typically don’t go.
According to the company’s response to the FDA’s inspection, Rose Acre Farms has implemented several corrections at Hyde County, such as retraining employees and creating a position for a “Corporate Sanitation Manager.” Hyde County eggs are being diverted from the marketplace, which will continue “until we are confident that compliance has been achieved,” the company said.