USDA Knew Of Poor Sanitation At Egg Facility Months Before Recall

Unless you’ve been only been paying attention to the 24/7 Big Brother live feeds this summer, you’ve probably heard about that tiny little recall of 380 million eggs because of potential salmonella poisoning. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that USDA graders noticed problems at the source facility earlier this year but opted to wait until FDA inspectors figured things out for themselves in August.

The Journal has seen daily sanitation reports filed by USDA graders from the months leading up to the recall. The newspaper says that the generally satisfactory reports took a turn for the worse in mid-May of this year, with some areas even labeled as “critical” by graders:

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, the egg graders didn’t stop production because the plant manager would clean up the unsatisfactory conditions right away.

“The egg graders did their jobs,” the USDA said in a statement.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recently defended the USDA graders by saying that they are not on site to be food safety inspectors: “Our people are focused on grading eggs. They are not necessarily focused on all of the other issues that the FDA had, and all the responsibilities FDA had.”

The USDA grade on chicken eggs refers to the egg’s size and color and has nothing to do with the cleanliness of the surroundings.

In August, FDA inspectors found unsatisfactory conditions in the plant’s henhouses — mice, maggots and manure piles as high as eight feet — and salmonella in the chicken feed. They did not, however, find any salmonella in the plant’s packing area, which is where the USDA graders do their work.

Egg Inspectors Failed to Raise Alarms [WSJ]

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  1. ALP5050 says:

    Oh jeez… Maybe if people cooked their eggs throughly this whole mess would have been avoided!

    • JixiLou says:

      Well, that’s just about the ultimate “blame the OP”.

      Silly me for assuming the food I bought was safe.

      • Groanan says:

        You are silly for thinking uncooked eggs, or chicken, or pork, etc., is safe to consume.

        I am not saying that it is silly to eat cookie dough, eating cookie dough is down right reasonable. But it is silly not to consider that there is at least a risk that you are exposing yourself to something that may give you violent diarrhea and/or vomiting.

        There is a difference between being brave and being foolhardy.

    • HappyPig says:

      Often, it’s not a matter of whether the bacteria are killed or not by cooking thoroughly, but whether the food you start with had enough bacterial growth beforehand to produce enough toxins (enterotoxins and exotoxins) to make you sick. This matters because some species (E. coli, S. aureus, etc.) produce heat-resistant toxins. So it may not matter whether something has been cooked enough to kill the bacteria.

      Therefore, it’s really important to monitor carefully the places where your food is being produced.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Eggs are icky if they’re overcooked.

      The more serious problem is egg products going into things designed to be cooked for insufficient periods of time or.. cookie dough, which many people eat raw.

    • myCatCracksMeUp says:

      Are you really suggesting that consumers should never purchase eggs and eat them over easy, soft boiled, or lightly poached?

    • isileth says:

      So if I buy eggs, I make a cake and taste a bit of it before cleaning the spoon and I get salmonella it’s my fault.
      Not of the egg farm that give to the chicken salmonella tainted food, has maggots and mice and manure piled 8 fett high.
      How silly of me, not thinking about this.

    • BridgetPentheus says:

      um maybe if the US had better food safety it wouldn’t have happened, Sweden has virtually wiped out Samonella

      • Biokinetica says:

        That’s pretty easy to say when Sweden doesn’t have laws defining Microsoft as an individual. Our government programs don’t “work” because the corporations that run them don’t want them to.

  2. backinpgh says:

    Well of COURSE they knew. Why I am totally not surprised???

  3. mythago says:

    This is what happens when you have a regulatory agency whose mission is also to promote the interests of the industry it’s regulating.

    • radio1 says:

      No, this is what happens when people cry, “No big government”, “Let the market handle itself” and “Lower my taxes”.

      I’ve worked in food safety for private companies and a third party laboratory.

      It’s so easy to blame a regulatory agency after the fact. But why not research what powers the FDA/USDA/APHA actually have. Many times, a company’s own quality control can exercise more authority over a product than gov’t regulators. The only problem there is that you are subject to inside/company pressures…

      • Biokinetica says:

        You couldn’t be more correct. My father is the director of the Bureau of Construction codes for…one of the contiguous forty-eight, we’ll say. Every regulatory agency has this problem, and it’s always the machinations of some astro-turf “advocacy” group constantly at work to destroy the regulatory infrastructure for the sole purpose of shaving a few thousand dollars off the bottom-line of a relatively trivial demand. This one in particular (vaccinating the stock) would’ve only raised the price of each egg by one cent. On top of that, the lobbies are also responsible for the ridiculous monopolies that confine core food production to 1/10 of the country.

  4. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Well the thing is that regardless of the conditions inside the packaging part of the factory, the salmonella was INSIDE the eggs.. which means the chickens themselves were treated miserably.

  5. zekebullseye says:

    8 feet of manure? Gag.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Seriously. After seeing Food Inc (and I know that’s a polarizing subject just bringing it up) and seeing the supposed cage-free birds and realizing how horrid their lives are it really turned me off chicken for a little while. I’m getting my eggs now from a local “farm” (its some people with several dozens of hens in their yard, tbh) and I’m much happier with the quality of product I get from them.

      I wish there was a poultry farm around here, but I’m stuck with frozen chicken from questionable sources.

      • brandy says:

        Well, not really. If you’re that bothered by the way they’re treated, then don’t eat them.

      • mythago says:

        Er….those people with the eggs probably have a lot of male chicks they don’t keep forever, if you get my meaning.

        I was all set to get my mother-in-law to have a chicken coop built, and then she discovered a den of foxes living in her yard. Sometimes I miss living in the big city.

        • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

          Doubtful. They have bunches of hens that lay eggs. They sell the eggs unfertilized to me, who eats them because they’re yummy. This isn’t a breeding operation, its an egglaying operation. When they need more chicks, they buy them. And to what you are referring, I seriously doubt they put their chicks through a grinder like the industrial places do. This is a home business.

  6. oldwiz65 says:

    I wonder how much money the plant’s management slipped to the FDA? they were probably slipping quite a lot. The inspectors are far more interested in collecting a little on the side rather than protecting people’s health.

  7. xnihilx says:

    Let me recap every outbreak of food-borne illness that has been occurring the last few years in the news and I’ll psychically predict how every other one turns out in the next say ten years or so MadLibs style:

    [food product noun] contaminated with [icky food disease that can kill you] has been recalled because the FDA failed to shut down the [food product production site noun] that was operating with [noun for animal discharge] on [noun for production equipment] before [food product noun] got to you the consumer.

    There now all you need to do is just grow and make your own everything at home until the FDA literally cleans up its act.

  8. Rocket80 says:

    Just watch, despite the fact that this only proves the inefficiency of government , liberals are going to say more government oversight and regulation and funding are the answer and it was the evil ‘free market’ in the egg industry that allowed this to happen -_-

    • shaleoil24 says:

      while I agree more government regulation is not the answer, your statement is equally silly. For profit companies will always try to do the minimum to get by on costs/expenses to produce something that they can sell. And if this means cutting corners on cleanliness, then hey, blame the plant manager, not the board or CEO

      • Biokinetica says:

        The problem here is that corners weren’t technically cut. The rules were just dumbed down by the lobby. When these things happen, it’s always a lobby’s fault.

    • Conformist138 says:

      So, I’m trying to follow this logically and not being silly:
      The farm was sending potentially tainted product from a facility the FDA knew was a problem. And, somehow, this wouldn’t have happened if… the FDA didn’t exist? Or if the FDA was private and not government? I really don’t get what you are trying to suggest. Saying we don’t need new regulations is pretty obvious. I say we should follow the regulations we have and do away with all the pussy-footing around. Do the regular inspections and don’t let the farms buy off inspectors or purchase politicians.

  9. FrugalFreak says:

    They were getting palms greased along with the eggs eh?

  10. myCatCracksMeUp says:

    Are you really suggesting that consumers should never purchase eggs and eat them over easy, soft boiled, or lightly poached?

  11. xanxer says:

    This is where everyone who got sick from the eggs gets a class action suit together and sues the facility owner and the FDA for gross negligence.

  12. sonneillon says:

    The problem is that every seafood, poultry and beef processing plant is currently in violation of USDA regulations. All of them. So as opposed to shutting them all down the USDA usually gives out warnings and tells them to fix it. Which they do until something else goes, but they can only catch what they see.

  13. s0meb0dy says:

    These things have been known for years. Read Molly Ivins book “Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America” from 2004. The USDA and most regulatory agencies were neutered. The USDA had their powers to actually shut down plants taken away. As long as we have pro corporate politicians from any party these things will continue to happen.

  14. harmoniousness says:

    Just buy organic eggs from free-range chickens. Disease is from the horrible conditions put forth in these factory farms.

  15. Biokinetica says:

    Also, I think Consumerist should be mindful of WSJ’s intent with this article; Murdoc will print anything he can to weaken the government.

  16. palfas says:

    Regulations are for commies. We don’t need big government making a new agency to over see both egg grading and cleanliness. Vote republican!