This Spring and Summer a massive egg recall was initiated in response to a multi-state Salmonella Braenderup infection outbreak. Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County, a shell egg production facility, was implicated as the source of this outbreak that left a reported 45 people infected and 11 people hospitalized across 10 states (Alaska, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia). The Seymour Indiana facility issued a recall for 206,749,248 eggs and Cal-Maine Foods voluntarily recalled another 23,400 dozen eggs they purchased from the farm. The Rose Acre Farms outbreak is now over.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the apparent end to the outbreak on June 14, 2018. No other patents have tested positive for the same outbreak strain identified in the Rose Acre Farm samples. That is where it ended. Sort of. But where did it start?
Let Us Refresh Our Memories
For most of us, this was just a blip on the radar. A big recall on eggs, some headline news, and it is gone. For those and their families that were affected, more significant memories are etched. Let us take a moment to remember what happened.
A sudden influx of Salmonella cases hit healthcare providers. As protocol dictates, samples are tested and compared to a database. Through genetic analysis, it became evident that many of these samples were related, meaning that one person who was ill with Salmonella infection had the same genetically matched strain as others who were also sick with Salmonella infection. These illnesses started on November 16, 2017 for the earliest reported patients and ran all the way to May 13, 2018.
Patients were interviewed to get a lead on where to look for a potential source. Typical protocol is to ask patients where and what they have eaten during the week before becoming ill. A significant 83% of interviewed patients reported eating shell eggs. Over half of them indicated eating various egg dishes at different restaurants.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) picked up the investigation and traced back the shell eggs supplied to the indicated restaurants to a farm. The Rose Acre Farms’ Hyde County, North Carolina farm. Samples were collected at the farm and laboratory results indicated that environmental areas at the farm and production facility were positive for Salmonella and a genetic match to the strain of Salmonella responsible for making those in the multi-state outbreak sick.
While investigators were there, they observed some gross violations. Rats. Not just a few little farm mice, but well over the allowed limit of rats for a food production facility. These rules are in place for both obvious and not-so obvious reasons. The obvious – Rats carry diseases. These diseases could be transmitted to the chickens and potentially passed onto the egg products. The not-so-obvious – Rats track debris, and germs. The creepy crawly patter of little paws walk around in excrement and waste products and then track them onto the eggs. These germs can be transferred onto the eggs after they have been “cleaned” or grossly contaminate them beyond what “normal” cleaning might be able to do.
FDA Issues Firm and Public Warning
Rose Acre Farms has been cooperating with the FDA in recall and compliance activities. What the farm says they are doing and what they are actually doing is what is in the balance. On September 6, 2018 the FDA issued a firm and public warning to the CEO, Marcus Rust.
The FDA has given Rose Acre Farms fifteen working days to indicate the progress they have made in correcting the following violations:
- Unsatisfactory rodent control as required by 21 CFR 118.4(c)(1) even after acknowledging with internal rodent monitoring forms of ongoing infestation at an unacceptable rodent activity over the last 29 weeks.
- Insanitary conditions and poor employee practices such as: violations of the firms “Cleaning Procedure for Egg Orientor Belt,” by not allowing detergent to soak for the indicated 10 to 15 minutes; lack of sanitizing step after the wash step; condensation dripping onto production equipment and pooling onto the floor in foot and forklift traffic pathways; employees transferring dirty items with grime and food debris onto food contact surfaces; improper maintenance and cleaning of equipment; unsanitary cleaning tools; and flying insects throughout the egg processing plant observed to land on food, food contact surfaces, and food production equipment.
The FDA expects notification in writing of any steps that the farm has made to correct their deficiencies and ensure that history does not repeat itself. They want “documentation, such as records, photographs, receipts, etc. to demonstrate that corrective actions are in process or have been achieved.”
Next Steps for Rose Acre Farm
While this seems like a very scary and threatening process for the farm, this is something that happens all of the time. We don’t usually hear about it unless it is attached to a large recall or worse yet, an outbreak such as the multi-state Salmonella Braenderup outbreak linked to this case. Many farms are non-compliant. The non-compliance is just discovered during routine inspection, the farm is given 6 months to clean up their act. They show they have made an effort to fix the violations and they are good again until the next inspection. Wash, rinse, repeat.
In the case of Rose Acre Farm, we know that they diverted their egg processing activities to another facility while under investigation. We hope that they take control of their rodent and flying insect problem before bringing these tasks back online and clean up the facility. Additionally, staff should be better trained for proper sanitary procedures and equipment cleaning and maintenance. These are all the hopes.
No business owner wants to be responsible for the illness or worse yet – death of a customer. This lends to a glimmer of optimism that the appropriate people will make appropriate changes. But the reality is that the bottom dollar is the biggest concern. Doing the minimum to get the facility back online is high priority. Corners are cut to reap bigger benefits and take home a little more green. Is this the plan for Rose Acre Farm? Only their next routine inspection will uncover that truth.
It is times like this that I am glad I raise my own chickens for eggs for my family. Nothing beats fresh laid breakfast.
By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)