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.