Grassley.jpgSenator Grassley was quoted in the Wall Street Journal today – “Just because food safety isn’t ‘my job’ doesn’t mean it should be ignored.” I may not agree with him on most things, but on this one, he and I seem to see eye to eye. I just may stop putting my money on the Democrats. Here is why.

Last week Alison Young at USA Today reported that “[at]hough USDA says its authority was limited, the agency’s egg graders were at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms at least 40 hours a week — including before the outbreak — inspecting the size and quality of eggs inside processing buildings.”

However, “USDA regulations say buildings and “outside premises” must be free of conditions that harbor vermin, but the agency takes a narrow view of its responsibilities. Under the USDA’s unwritten interpretation of the regulations, egg graders only look for vermin inside the specific processing building where they are based, said Dean Kastner, an assistant USDA branch chief in poultry grading program.”

This is what the FDA found when it finally entered the Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms:

  • Chicken manure in piles up to 8 feet high under five egg-laying houses. “The outside access doors to the manure pits at these locations have been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals,” the report said.
  • Chicken house doors blocked by excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits.
  • “Dark liquid which appears to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses.”
  • Escaped birds using the piles of manure to enter the egg-laying areas.
  • Live rodents sighted by inspectors.
  • Living and dead flies “too numerous to count” in various houses.
  • Living and dead maggots in the manure piles.
  • Multiple rodent holes.
  • Gaps under doors where rodents and insects could enter henhouses.
  • Standing water near manure pits.
  • Liquid manure leaking out of manure pits.
  • Fly and rodent monitoring forms not correctly filled out.

Then this morning, Alicia Mundy and Bill Tomson of the Wall Street Journal report that perhaps those same USDA egg graders “found growing sanitary problems including bugs and overflowing trash earlier this year on the Iowa farm at the center of the national egg recall, but didn’t notify health authorities, according to government documents and officials. … The USDA said it didn’t give notice because “the conditions at the egg plant packing facilities were routine.”

98usda.jpgAccording to the Journal, “[b]esides grading eggs at Wright County egg, the FDA (sic USDA) workers also wrote a daily review of 22 categories of cleanliness. Reviews from last year and April of this year generally found conditions satisfactory. … Around mid-May, however, the marks shifted to “unsatisfactory” in several areas including some deemed “critical.”

The Journal also looked at documents that showed “[o]ver time, conditions grew worse and in July and August, a few critical areas were called unsatisfactory several days a week. The facility, Plant 1720, was supplying many of the eggs that were later recalled. … In written remarks, the USDA graders repeatedly noted problems with bugs, trash and egg residue. “The scanning equip[ment] had egg yolk everywhere,” read an April 29 note. “Lots of bugs dead on the floor,” read another on July 1.”

However, “[t]he graders didn’t stop production. The USDA says that is because they notified the plant manager each morning when they saw issues, and facilities were cleaned up before production began. “The egg graders did their jobs,” the USDA said in a statement.”

Perhaps they “did their jobs.” However, I would like them and their boss, Secretary Vilsack, to meet the 1,500 people sickened and explain that to every one of them.