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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

CDC, almost 50,000 Sickened by Salmonella Enteritidis Wright County Egg

From the CDC Post of moments ago:

In May 2010, CDC identified a nationwide increase in the number of Salmonella Enteritidis isolates with PFGE pattern JEGXX01.0004 uploaded to PulseNet, the national subtyping network made up of state and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory laboratories that performs molecular surveillance of foodborne infections. This increase is evident in the epidemic curve, or epi curve. During May 1 to July 31, 2010, a total of 1,953 illnesses were reported. However, some of these cases may not be related to this outbreak. Based on the previous 5 years of reports to PulseNet, we would expect approximately 700 illnesses during this same period. Many states have reported increases of this pattern since May. Because of the large number of expected cases during this period, standard methods of molecular subtyping alone are not sufficient to determine which reported cases might be outbreak-associated. CDC is currently conducting testing using advanced molecular methodologies to help distinguish between outbreak-related cases and sporadic (or background) cases.

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Illnesses that occurred after July 17, 2010 might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks for Salmonella. For more details, please see the Salmonella Outbreak Investigations: Timeline for Reporting Cases.

Epidemiologic investigations conducted by public health officials in 10 states since April have identified 26 restaurants or events where more than one ill person with the outbreak strain has eaten. Data from these investigations suggest that shell eggs are a likely source of infections in many of these restaurants or events. Preliminary information indicates that Wright County Egg, in Galt, Iowa, was an egg supplier in 15 of these 26 restaurants or events. A formal traceback conducted by state partners in California, Colorado, and Minnesota, in collaboration with FDA and CDC, found that shell eggs from five of these restaurants or events were from a single firm, Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. FDA is currently conducting an extensive investigation at the firm in Iowa. The investigation includes CDC participation and involves sampling, records review and looking for potential sources of contamination, such as feed. The investigation continues and updates will be made available.

According to the CDC, for every one person who is a stool-culture confirmed positive victim of salmonella in the United States, there a multiple of 38.5 who are also sick, but remain uncounted. (See, AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,” Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004; 38 (Suppl 3): S127-34).

That would be 1,953 – 700 = 1,253 x 38.5 = 48,240.5

  • John W. Munsell

    The ability of CDC and state authorities to trace back to Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa is an impressive lesson for all consumers. This success is not exclusively due to the ABILITY of CDC officials as well as state authorities, but more importantly, to their WILLINGNESS to perform trace backs to the source, to protect public health. Why do I state this?
    In stark contrast, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) which conducts meat inspection, has a horrible track record in NOT being able to trace back to the slaughter plant of origin where E.coli and Salmonella are deposited onto carcasses. Admittedly, some problems are encountered in this trace back task, such as the practice of mingling together meat from various sources when ground beef is produced. Granted. However, numerous management practices are available when testing meat which if implemented would greatly aid the task of public health professionals to identify the SOURCE of contamination. FSIS steadfastly resists such common sense practices, and feels immune from explaining its intractable opposition against identifying the SOURCE of contaminated meat & poultry.
    However, there are differences between the egg industry and the meat industry. The egg industry is made up of hundreds, if not thousands of egg producers. Althought the egg industry continues to weed out the smallest producers, America still enjoys a relative abundance of egg manufacturers. The meat industry is starkly different. The top 4 meat packers (Tyson, JBS-Swift, Cargill, & National Beef) slaughter 88% of our feedlot cattle. Some of these companies are multinational behemoths, accessing protein around the globe. The Big 4 have amassed considerable political clout, and have deep pockets enabling them to legally challenge FSIS if the agency were ever to attempt meaningful enforcement actions against the Big 4. Couple this scenario with the agency’s current method of deregulated meat non-inspection called HACCP, and one can readily understand why FSIS adroitly avoids trace backs to the Big 4 who constitute a formidable adversary.
    On March 10 of this year, FSIS held its first-ever public hearing on Tracebacks. Well, the agency was forced into the hearing for public relations purposes. After all, in December 2009 FDA conducted its own public hearing on Tracebacks. Why is this important? Because FDA inspectors visit plants as infrequently as once every few years, which was painfully exposed during the PCA recall of peanut butter. In stark relief, FSIS inspectors must be at every meat plant on a daily basis. Even though FDA inspectors infrequently visit plants, FDA has successfully traced back outbreaks to a single farm in California or Mexico, to peanut butter facilities, to individual egg farms, etc. Although FSIS inspectors are at every plant every day, the agency somehow lacks the expertise to trace back to individual slaughter plants which unwittingly contaminate carcasses with enteric bacteria. This is not an issue of FSIS inability to perform tracebacks to the SOURCE, but exposes the agency’s systemic UNWILLINGNESS to trace back to the source, which in the vast majority of cases is one of the Big 4 packers. FSIS is paralyzed with fear of litigation emanating from the Big 4. To prevent litigation, the agency hides its head in the sand at the downstream further processing plants, retail meat markets and restaurants where E.coli & Salmonella are detected. These downstream destination facilities are consistently charged with full liability for the presence of pathogens, insulating the SOURCE slaughter plants from accountability.
    The traceback public hearing hosted by FSIS this March 10 occurred a full TWELVE years after the Big 4 implemented their highly-heralded HACCP programs on January 26, 1998. Delaying their public discussion of tracebacks for 12 years reveals the agency’s abhorrence against the practice. USDA enjoys its current semi-retirement role at the Big 4, a comfort which would be challenged if the agency were forced to do tracebacks to the SOURCE. FSIS lacks the courage to Force the Source, but insteads Destroys the Destination.
    There is no Big 4 in eggs. Therefore, egg producers are the subject of unlimited investigative work by government health authorities. Therein lies the difference.
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, MT