Inspection reports show violations at Iowa egg farms

Ag/Outdoor, News

August 28th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A investigation by the Des Moines Register has revealed safeguards at some Iowa egg production facilities remain inadequate, one-year after salmonella sickened at least 1,600 people and led to the recall of a half-billion eggs. The paper reported in its Sunday edition, Iowa egg producers don’t have to disclose salmonella test results to state or federal regulators, egg farms are told days in advance about inspections, federal regulators don’t fine or close egg farms where violations are found and some egg farms refuse to tell government inspectors what brands their eggs are sold under.

One of the egg farms mentioned in the article, was Southwest Iowa Egg, in Massena. During a visit by FDA inspectors four-months ago, the co-op was noted for four violations. Inspectors found the company was not: following its own protocol for preventing salmonella; was failing to review internal plant records as required; was failing to properly document cleaning, disinfecting and efforts to control flied and rodents; and, maintained no records documenting the number of hours eggs were stored on site before being shipped out. The FDA give company officials a poster detailing some of the regulations pertaining to egg production, but imposed no penalties.

In an interview to air 7:30-a.m. Monday on KJAN’s “Heartbeat Today,” with Jim Field, Rich Hall, General Manager of Southwest Iowa Egg says the company has a bio-security plan in place to prevent salmonella from forming at the facility. He says when facility first opened, they allowed tours, but that practice was stopped not long thereafter, to prevent contamination, and provide for a safe product that’s shipped to the consumer.

Hall says the violations were tied to the manner in which paperwork was maintained by the company. He says the documentation is there, but officials with the FDA thought information pertaining to rodent and fly activity should be on separate logs. He says for the past three-years, the birds are vaccinated for salmonella, which is not required. In addition, their facilities have been tested twice, once by the FDA, and a second time by an independent lab. No evidence of salmonella was ever found.

Hall says their new security plan was developed when eggs produced at another Iowa farm were recalled in August 2010, following an investigation into the salmonella outbreak that affected more than two-dozen states. He says they hired a veterinary consultant to help develop the plan, and have implemented that plan according to its interpretation. Hall says they discussed the paperwork issues mentioned by the FDA, and have made modifications to comply with the recommendations.

Hall says an audit in July of the cooperative’s north facility, did not reveal any problems with documentation. Another area egg production facility, Rose Acre Farms, in Guthrie Center, was inspected in April, but the process was aborted when officials discovered that birds in one of the henhouses had been diagnosed by the company, with a viral infection that is harmful to hens, but poses no risks to humans. The diagnosis was not reported to the state veterinarian, as required by law. The veterinarian advised the FDA not to re-enter the farm or any other facilities for at least five days, following the Rose Acre inspection. Officials with Rose Acre Farms say the FDA did complete its inspection, and no action was taken against the company for failing to report the disease, or refusing to provide the requested information about it.

Hall says Southwest Iowa Egg has made significant improvements to its documentation processes, based on discussion with the FDA. Iowa is the nation’s leading egg producer, with 57 million hens laying 14 billion eggs per year.