With 550,000,000 eggs being recalled from 18 states and the number of ill flirting with 2,000, we understandably are not only focusing on the “how did it happen?” but, also “how this could have been prevented?”

good:badeggs.jpgState Ag and Federal (USDA/FSIS and FDA) authorities seem to be going out of their way to let us know that no one was inspecting the “hen houses” linked to this recall and outbreak – or any other hen houses for that matter.  We are being assured that if the “Egg Rule” (which was debated for decades) had been in place in May (when the outbreak began) and not July (when the outbreak was nearly over) this whole mess would not have occurred.  Really?  Here is a summary of the Rule:

• Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella bacteria

• Establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment

• Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella Enteritidis. If the tests find the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must be tested over an eight-week time period (four tests at two-week intervals); if any of the four egg tests is positive, the producer must further process the eggs to destroy the bacteria, or divert the eggs to a non-food use

• Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis

• Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees F during storage and transportation no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid (this requirement also applies to egg producers whose eggs receive a treatment, such as pasteurization).

• Environmental Testing for SE. There are specific requirements on when and how to test for SE and coordination with pullet testing.

• Egg Testing for SE. Whenever you have reason to know/suspect of presence of SE. Two week intervals in positive poultry houses.

It seems to me that the above are both common sense and minimum requirements for producing eggs – especially when you are producing them from millions of chickens for the consuming public..  Furthermore, how is the FDA going to inspect these plants when it does not now have the manpower to inspect the thousands of other food manufacturing plants it is supposed to inspect now?

Perhaps looking back across “the pond” might give us a way out of this scramble.

25vaccineGrfx-articleInline.jpgIn 1997, there were 14,771 reported cases in England and Wales of the most common type of the bacteria, a strain known as Salmonella Enteritidis PT4. Vaccine trials began that year, and the next year, egg producers began vaccinating in large numbers.

The number of human illnesses has dropped almost every year since then. Last year, according to data from the Health Protection Agency of England and Wales, there were just 581 cases, a drop of 96 percent from 1997.

“We have pretty much eliminated salmonella as a human problem in the U.K.,” said Amanda Cryer, director of the British Egg Information Service, an industry group.

The F.D.A. estimates that each year, 142,000 illnesses in the United States are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with the most common type of salmonella. It has said the new rules would cut that by more than half. People who eat bad eggs that have not been cooked thoroughly to kill the bacteria can get diarrhea and cramps. Rare cases can be fatal.

Implementing the Egg Rule was decades late. Even now adopted it gives me little confidence that we are willing to give the FDA the resources to make sure it is being followed.

Requiring vaccines – especially in egg productions plants that count the chickens by the millions – is a common sense fix that can be implemented now, and if England is any guide, we can drive illnesses down and down fast.

Thanks to William Neuman at the New York Times – “U.S. Rejected Hen Vaccine Despite Success in Britain.”