Salmonella contamination on farms in Midwest

A national ongoing outbreak of salmonella-contaminated eggs has sickened over 1,400 people since May, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreak has been tracked to in-shell eggs from Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms in Iowa, which have launched a nationwide recall of over 550 million eggs suspected of being contaminated with salmonella bacteria. The recall covers eggs packed between May 16 and Aug. 13, in cartons ranging from 6 to 18 eggs, and marked with plant numbers P-1026, P-1413 and P-1946. These eggs should be returned for a refund and not consumed.

According to the CDC, approximately 1,470 individuals have become ill with salmonellosis as a result of eating contaminated eggs during this outbreak. The CDC adds that this is the largest salmonellosis outbreak in the country since the early 1970s.

Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is a bacterial disease of the intestinal tract. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that cause typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever and other illnesses. People become infected mostly through contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry and eggs.

Following the egg recall, inspections conducted August 19-26 of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms revealed horrendous hygiene conditions, with huge chicken manure heaps, live rodents and wild birds within the hen houses of two farms. Conditions have been described as disgusting, stomach churning, repulsive and shocking.

Federal inspectors commented on holes and gaps in structures, which allowed pests and vermin to enter hen houses. Live rodents were frequently observed in the hen houses.

The inspectors said that neither Wright Country Egg nor Hillandale Farms followed their bio-security plans, designed to reduce the transmission of pathogens.

Proper use of chemical disinfectants, such as sodium hypochlorite and elemental chlorine, helps to maintain the safety of the nation’s food supply. While chlorine based disinfectants represent one tool for preventing an outbreak like this, disinfection is most effective when done in conjunction with other practices intended to prevent contamination. These two farms failed to perform the most basic practices of good hygiene that would have prevented such things as rodent infestation, manure accumulation and the prevalence of pests in the hen houses. However, it’s important to note that these chlorine-based disinfectants have extensive critical uses all along the path from the farm to the fork.

(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)