Egg Producer In Recall Has History Of Violations

The Iowa egg producer linked to the recall of more than half a billion eggs has a history of health and safety violations. That news comes as federal officials are still investigating at least 2,000 cases of salmonella.

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An Iowa egg producer linked to the recall of more than half a billion eggs has a history of health and safety violations. That news comes as federal officials are still investigating more than 2,000 cases of salmonella.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this update.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Businessman Austin Jack DeCoster owns Wright County Egg, the first Iowa producer to issue a recall last week. He's also reported to supply chicken and feed to Hillandale Farms, which issued its recall this weekend.

In 2000, Iowa labeled DeCoster a habitual violator of environmental regulations. In fact, DeCoster also owns farms in Maine, and allegations of unsanitary conditions stretch back to the 1990s. That's when then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich called conditions at one DeCoster farm as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.

NPR could not reach DeCoster for comment, but a spokeswoman has said the company is cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration's investigation.

It is not yet known how many cases of salmonella can be traced to these Iowa farms. But Krista Eberle of the Egg Safety Center, part of an industry trade group, says consumers should know the illnesses date back to April. Most of the half a billion eggs recalled are believed to have been eaten already.

Ms. KRISTA EBERLE (Director of Food Safety Programs, Egg Safety Center): The likelihood of it actually is still being in the grocery store, the retailer, in the food-service industry and in a household - you know, most people eat their eggs, you know, within 30 days of purchase.

LUDDEN: The investigation is focusing on California, plus 13 other states, mainly across the middle part of the country. That was a comfort to Michael Clark(ph), as he loaded groceries outside a Washington, D.C., Safeway this morning.

Mr. MICHAEL CLARK: You know, I guess I'm trusting that, you know, it hasn't gotten here yet. Nobody in my family got sick yet.

LUDDEN: In fact, Clark had eggs for breakfast this morning. Industry spokeswoman Eberle says prudent consumers should wash their hands and utensils before and after cooking with eggs.

Ms. EBERLE: You also want to make sure that you are cooking the eggs thoroughly through. The yolks are firm; the whites are firm.

LUDDEN: So no sunny side up?

Ms. EBERLE: We would recommend against that. It can be a little bit runny but I mean, you're going to make sure that you get the egg up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and that guarantees that the bacteria will be killed.

LUDDEN: New safety regulations to reduce salmonella in eggs took effect in July, but some recalled eggs were produced in August. It could be months before investigators pinpoint what went wrong.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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