A recent report by IndyStar paints an unflattering portrait of the roles played by Rose Acre Farms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the foodborne illness outbreak caused by Salmonella-tainted eggs.
The Indiana-based company’s production facility in Hyde County, NC, produces more than 2 million eggs daily, ostensibly under the watchful eye of a USDA grader. According to the report, the grader is supposed to be at the farm every day.
The IndyStar asks the question: With a USDA grader on-site, why did it take a Salmonella outbreak of 23 illnesses in nine states to alert officials to problems at the farm?
A USDA spokesperson told IndyStar, the online arm of the Indianapolis Star, that a typical day for a grader involves checking the facility’s equipment before operations begin for the day. Any issues are addressed at that point. After that, the grader 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 told IndyStar via email.
The IndyStar reports that the USDA didn’t specifically address a question about whether a grader should have observed those issues.
That might have applied to Rose Acre Farms, where many violations were made in the egg-processing building.
The report goes on to say that FDA inspectors visited the farm after the Salmonella outbreak started making headlines.
Those inspectors discovered the procedure for cleaning the egg “orientor” was not being implemented. In addition, employees were observed “cutting corners” while washing eggs; water from the “ceilings, pipes and down walls” was seen dripping onto production equipment; and dried eggs and shells accumulated in the same areas over multiple days.
Other violations were noted at the Hyde County farm, including excessive rodent activity, but those were observed in the hen houses, which graders typically don’t access.
After eggs are washed in the processing facility, the report says, graders check for imperfections, such as cracked shells. The graders also look inside the egg, using a process called “candling.” The eggs receive a USDA seal only after they are deemed up to USDA standards of quality.
Darrin Karcher, an extension poultry specialist at Purdue University, told IndyStar that the value of the voluntary program is that it communicates to consumers that they are buying a product held to higher standards. “It gives another layer of credibility to the consumer,” Karcher said.
Karcher, however, said he could not say whether in this particular case the USDA grader missed an opportunity.
According to the company’s response to the FDA’s inspection, Rose Acre Farms has implemented several corrections at the Hyde County farm, including retraining employees and creating a position for a “Corporate Sanitation Manager.” Eggs from the facility are being diverted from market and will continue to be “until we are confident that compliance has been achieved.”
More than 206 million recalled
Rose Acre Farms voluntarily recalled more than 206 million potentially Salmonella-tainted eggs on April 13. Company officials said they initiated the recall after at least 22 people became sick on the East Coast. The illnesses were traced back to the Hyde County farm.
The potentially Salmonella-tainted eggs were sold in nine states: Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The affected eggs have the Julian date range of 011 through 102 printed on the package. The brand names and UPC codes can be found here.