By: Heather Van Tassell
While investigation is ongoing, it appears that rodents may be responsible for the recent Salmonella Braenderup outbreak linked to shell eggs, according to recent reports. Yikes! No one wants to think about rats crawling around on their food. As of the last Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outbreak update, 23 people have been reported ill, 6 of which required hospitalization. This outbreak spans 9 states including: Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. All gross thoughts aside, this outbreak is pretty serious and many people have fallen ill as a result of these food safety violations.
After the farm came under investigation, they have fully cooperated with investigators and performed due diligence by initiating a voluntary recall. This comes after site visits ranging from March 26, 2018 to April 7, 2018.
Once reports of people becoming ill began to link back to the Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County Farm in North Carolina, Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Indiana issued a voluntary recall for 206,749,248 eggs (plant number P-1065D, Julian date 011 through 102).
These eggs have also been repackaged and labeled under multiple brand names, including:
- Coburn Farms
- County Daybreak
- Crystal Farms
- Food Lion
- Great Value
- Sunshine Farms
This recall issued on April 16, 2018 was issued out of an “abundance of caution.” For context, this is about 90 days of output, as this farm produces about 2.3 million eggs a day. This is the largest outbreak related to eggs since 2010 where 550 million eggs were recalled from 2 Iowa farms.
Other distributors have followed suite, such as Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., who also issued a voluntary recall for one load of eggs (23,400 dozen eggs), as they purchased them from Rose Acre Farms and re-packaged them at the Cal-Maine Foods facility. Identifying the source was crucial, as this is a common practice in this industry. Many companies source from the same farms and package under their own brand names.
Unsanitary Conditions Cited at Farm
Upon U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection, unsanitary conditions were found. While you don’t expect a farm (let alone one containing live animals) to maintain pristine conditions, certain housekeeping and food safety measures are important. The reported conditions allowed for the “proliferation and spread of filth and pathogens throughout the facility that could cause the contamination of egg processing equipment and eggs.”
This is not a new problem for this farm. A routine review of the farm’s pest control records indicated issues with ongoing rodent infestations. Despite this information, rodents, baby mice, and even dead carcasses were observed in addition to workers who weren’t following proper sanitary practices. These unsanitary practices included touching their hair or faces and even what is indicated as their “intergluteal cleft” before touching food contact surfaces and even the eggs themselves without changing gloves or washing their hands. What is an intergluteal cleft you might ask? It’s the groove between the buttocks. I’m just going to leave you with that image.
If that wasn’t enough, other questionable conditions were reported by federal inspectors. The report indicates sanitary infractions such as “condensation dripping from the ceiling, pipes, and down walls onto production equipment” that pooled onto the floors. Also, a steel wool scrubber that workers use to clean debris off equipment was half-hazardly stored in a dustpan “floating with debris and grime” in a pool of water. Dirty water on equipment, supplies and product is a bad situation regardless if this is a farm or indoor facility. This environment breeds all kinds of bacterial pathogens.
Government inspectors also observed rodents scurrying in manure pits, grime and food debris coated equipment, and a swarm of “large flying insects too numerous to count.” While waste products are expected on a farm, pest control and gross contamination can occur if these aspects are not managed properly. Many farms may experience an occasional rodent issue in the chicken facilities. It is almost unavoidable. Anywhere food is stored, rodents may take advantage of the food source. Safe manufacturing practices require a pest control plan and regular mitigation of any issues observed.
Investigators expect a response to the report from the farm and measures that will fix the current problem and prevention policies to keep this from happening again in the future. An outside spokesman for Rose Acre Farms, Gene Grabowski, explains that the report “is based on raw observations an in some cases lack proper context.” While the company is preparing for a formal response to the report, Grabowski urges that people “wait until all the facts are presented before rushing to judgement.” Rose Acre said it does “everything possible to safeguard our flocks and to ensure that we are providing a safe, affordable and abundant supply of eggs to U.S. consumers.” That being said, whether in or out of context the facts are startling.
How Rodents Can Contribute to Contamination
In addition to the yuck factor, rodents can cause a variety of health risks in any environment, particularly where food is manufactured or distributed. Rodents, such as mice and rats, are carriers from a variety of diseases such as:
- Hemorrhagic Fevers
- Lassa Fever
- Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis (LCM)
- Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever
- Rat-Bite Fever
- South American Arenaviruses
In the case of this Salmonella outbreak linked to shell eggs, salmonellosis.
In addition to rodents carrying these diseases and depositing bacteria by way of their waste products, rodents can track other contaminants throughout the facility and on to the food products. It is unclear whether the contamination originated from the rodent feces or rodents tracking bacteria from nearby manure piles, but either way pests are a problem in a food production facility.
If chickens become infected from rodents tracking contamination, that bacteria can pass onto the eggs. The chicken anatomy is set up where the eggs and digestive waste pass through the same opening. In other circumstances the bacteria can even infect the hen’s ovary or oviduct. In this dangerous case the bacteria can infect the egg before the shell forms around it, trapping the infection inside.