Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Unscrambling The Egg Mess: Where Are We Now?

A recap and unofficial update on the US Salmonella Enteritidis shell egg outbreak

At the end of this week, CDC plans to release an update on its investigation of this outbreak. The agency expects to issue a final update in late November – around Thanksgiving.

One day soon – perhaps this week, according to my FDA contact – FDA might release an update on its outbreak investigation.

For the moment, this is where things stand.

The Numbers
  • 1,608 lab-confirmed illnesses linked to shell eggs between May 1 and September 14, 2010
  • 29 restaurant or event clusters of illnesses reported in 11 states
  • 15 of the 29 cluster venues were supplied with eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, IA (WCE)
  • the number of illnesses peaked in June/July, but continued to track above baseline at least through August
  • 7 Salmonella Enteritidis-contaminated environmental samples – six from Wright County Egg and one from Hillandale – have been found by FDA. All seven are a genetic match for the outbreak strain

The Traceback, The Recalls and The FDA Investigation Timeline
  • August 6:- FDA conducted a traceback investigation on three illness cluster venues: one each in Minnesota, Colorado and California
  • August 9:- FDA contacted WCE after identifying the shell egg producer as the source of eggs in the three illness clusters
  • August 12:- FDA began inspections at WCE in Galt, IA
  • August 13:- WCE issued its first recall notice of eggs from three farms
  • August 17:- The secondary recalls issued by customers of WCE and Hillandale began
  • August 18:- WCE expanded its recall to include eggs from two additional farms
  • August 19:- FDA began inspections at Hillandale Farms of Iowa
  • August 20:- Hillandale issued recall notice
  • August 26:- In a media teleconference, FDA reported finding 4 Salmonella Enteritidis-contaminated environmental samples from the WCE inspections. Work on the majority of the 600 environmental samples taken during those inspections was still in progress.
  • August 30:- FDA released to the public its Form 483 Inspection Observations reports for both WCE and Hillandale, after first having issued the reports to both egg producers. Two additional Salmonella Enteritidis-contaminated samples were added to the list – including one from Hillandale Farms – bringing the total to six contaminated samples, with work on the remainder of the 600 samples still in progress.
  • September 20:- CDC mentioned in its Investigation Update that a seventh Salmonella Enteritidis-contaminated environmental sample was found.
  • September 22:- The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard testimony from two outbreak victims, from the owners of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, and from the FDA. A transcript of the hearing, together with supplementary exhibits and documents is available on the Subcommittee web page.

What Next?
FDA is still working through the 600 environmental samples taken during its inspections of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. The agency has not said how many of those samples are still in progress. FDA did not include any shell eggs in the 600 samples from these producers.

I have been told by Ira Allen (FDA Office of Public Affairs) that FDA has begun its inspection program under the new Egg Rule. According to Mr. Allen, the first of those inspections were completed in Maine in late September. While Mr. Allen did not identify the target of the Maine inspection, my guess is that FDA focused first on Quality Egg of New England, LLC (Turner, ME), which has ties to the DeCoster family, the owners of Wright County Egg. The next inspections – most likely already underway – are planned for the Midwest.

FDA has not said whether it plans to release the results of its Egg Rule inspections. Let's hope that we don't have to wait for more recall notices in order to find out which egg farms have been inspected.

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