Beginning in July 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified a nationwide sustained increase in the number of Salmonella Enteritidis isolates with PFGE pattern JEGX01.0004 on PulseNet. As of December 2010, the CDC counted 3,578 illnesses, while noting that there might still be more as yet uncounted. CDC reports that during the timeframe of the outbreak, approximately 1,639 total illnesses of the implicated PFGE pattern would be expected to occur. Thus CDC concluded, “there are approximately 1,939 reported illnesses that are likely to be associated with this outbreak.”
In addition to the general outbreak investigation, public health officials in 11 states conducted a number of epidemiologic investigations. These various investigations revealed that beginning in April 2010 there were 29 restaurants or event clusters where more than one ill person with the outbreak strain had eaten. The CDC reported that:
Data from these investigations suggest that shell eggs were a likely source of infections in many of these restaurants or event clusters. Wright County Egg, in Galt, Iowa, was an egg supplier in 15 of these 29 restaurants or event clusters.
Beyond the epidemiological link to Wright County Egg, public health officials uncovered startlingly substandard conditions at Wright County Egg’s production facilities. CDC summarized those findings as follows:
FDA completed its on-site investigations of both Iowa farms and an evaluation of the investigational data, including review of sampling results and records. FDA’s inspectional observations, in addition to sample results, indicate substantial potential for Salmonella to have persisted in the environment and to have contaminated eggs.
The CDC’s summary, however, falls well short of capturing the deplorable conditions at Wright County Egg that caused this outbreak, and led to a national outcry for better oversight of egg production facilities. The FDA form 483, which contains observations of its inspection, included the following:
Chicken manure located in the manure pits below the egg laying operations was observed to be approximately 4 feet high to 8 feet high at the following locations: Layer 1 – House 1; Layer 3 – Houses 2, 7, 17, and 18. The outside access doors to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.
Un-baited, unsealed holes appearing to be rodent burrows located along the second floor baseboards were observed inside Layer 1 – Houses 1-9 and 11-13; Layer 2 – Houses 7 and 11; Layer 3 – Houses 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6; Layer 4 – House 3.
Dark liquid which appeared to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses at the following locations: Layer 1 – Houses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, and 14; and Layer 3 – Houses 1, 8, 13, and 17.
Standing water approximately 3 inches deep was observed at the southeast corner of the manure pit located inside Layer 1 – House 13.
Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operations in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 – Houses 9 and 16. The un-caged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area.
Layer 3 – House 11, the house entrance door to access both House 11 and 12 was blocked with excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits.
There were between 2 to 5 live mice observed inside the egg laying Houses 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14.
Live and dead flies too numerous to count were observed at the following locations inside the egg laying houses: Layer 1 – Houses 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, and 12; Layer 2 – Houses 7 and 11; Layer 3 – Houses 3, 4, 4, 5, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, and 18. The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in the different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor located in Layer 2 – House 7.
[failure to] document washing and disinfecting of your dead hen truck and manure equipment prior to moving from farm to farm.
[failure to] maintain records documenting the washing and disinfection of the trailers used for the movement of pullets to laying houses.
Birds were observed roosting and flying, chicks heard chirping in the storage and milking facilities. In addition, nesting material was observed in the feed mill closed mixing system, ingredient storage and truck filling areas.
Outdoor whole kernel corn grain bins 4 and 6 observed to have the topside doors/lids open to the environment and pigeons were observed entering and leaving these openings. Birds were also observed sitting/flying around and over the openings.
In addition, FDA investigators found Salmonella in numerous environmental samples collected at the facility, including:
On 8/13/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 2, house 7 manure swab from row 1 – left side.
On 8/16/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 2, house 11 at manure scraper blade from row 3 – right side.
On 8/13/2010, an environmental sample was collected from Layer 4, house 3 at walkway 1 – right side and walkway 3 – right side.
On 8/14/2010, a sample of meat and bone meal was collected from ingredient bin 7 located at your feed mill.
On 8/17/2010, a sample of finished feed “Developer” pullet feed was collected from the feed mill.
On 8/16/2010, an environmental sample was collected from the roof level covered ingredient bin chute 8; Second Floor ingredient bin cover 19 (ingredient bin 19 holds ground corn) located at your feed mill.
In addition to the FDA investigation, a Congressional investigation uncovered further evidence of Wright County Egg’s indifference to the conditions at its facility and risk of illness to consumers. Records presented at the Congressional hearings included environmental sample reports from the defendant’s facility in and around Galt Iowa from between 2008 and 2010 that indicated that Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for Salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella enteritidis. The testing included 66 positive samples for Salmonella on May 27, 2010 alone.
Furthermore, the Austin J. DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, had a long history with Salmonella and Eggs:
In 1982, approximately 36 people were sickened, and one person died, in an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis traced to an egg production facility owned and operated by Austin J. DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg. Eggs from the same DeCoster owned facility were suspected at the source of a simultaneous outbreak in Massachusetts that sickened 400 people.
In 1987, nine people died and roughly 500 were sickened in an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis in New York City by eggs produced by farms owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster.
Following two more outbreaks of Salmonella in New York State the following year, 1988, New York banned Mr. DeCoster from selling eggs in the state.
On or about this same time period, 1988, a breeder flock of chickens owned and operated by Mr. DeCoster in Maine had become infected with Salmonella, possibly infecting chicks, and leading to the laying of contaminated eggs.
In 1991, tests revealed Salmonella contamination at one of Mr. DeCoster’s farms in Maryland, leading the state to quarantine the eggs, and banned them from sale within the state. In 1992, a Maryland judge found that Mr. DeCoster had violated the quarantine by selling eggs to a store in Maryland. In 1992, eggs from Mr. DeCoster’s farm in Maryland were the source of a Salmonella outbreak in Connecticut.
The settlements were for an undisclosed sum.