A year ago there was a massive U.S. product recall involving hundreds of millions of packaged “shell eggs” because of the potential for Salmonella Enteritidis. The eggs, packaged under 13 different brand names, originated from farms in Iowa, the largest egg producing state in the U.S. producing 14 billion eggs per year. These eggs were distributed to food wholesalers, foodservice companies and supermarkets and because whole eggs are the basis for producing and preparing other food products, there were unspecified aspects as to the total scope of the recall along with the potential for human illness. The incident garnered widespread media coverage with calls for safety.
At the time of the outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted separate investigations to determine the source of the contamination. There was suspicion pointing to the feed provided to the various hens, although no definitive conclusions were made known. There were suspicions as to the overall sanitary conditions of the egg farms themselves, with national media outlets showing videos of large piles of manure and feces. At the time, Supply Chain Matters and other social media challenged large producers such as DeCoster Farms to do something about the problem so this incident would not repeat itself.
We happened to be alerted to a recent rather eye-popping article published in the Des Moines Register and Tribune, Egg Farms rack up violations. We wanted to insure that our readers took the time to read this article and pass it along to others.
The article reports that government inspectors continue to find unsanitary conditions and inadequate protections against disease. Also noted: “None of the violations have resulted in fines or penalties from state or federal agencies, and Iowa’s major egg producers still aren’t required to tell state officials when they find salmonella on their farms.” It goes on to note that critical elements of FDA inspection reports, such as brand names or size of infestations, are blacked out and are being withheld from the public. There are quotes from food safety experts that statistically, eggs are safe, but not safe enough. Outlined are significant gaps in the current inspectional system, including the forewarning of farms to an inspection, overlaps and gaps in federal agency inspection authority, and legislative loopholes that exempt certain farms from inspection and reporting.
If you read the article, like some of my family members, one really has to take pause as to the quality and consistency of egg related supply chains. Some of you may not be able to completely get through the article. A tip-of-the-hat to the article’s author, Clark Kauffman, for calling the current stituation to the attention of Iowa and other readers.
Last year, our commentary was that consumers should not be expected to settle for apologies but rather industry-wide actions to address quality of the egg supply. The United Egg Producers, an industry cooperative representing 95 percent of U.S. production farmers, has outlined a series of food safety actions including a Five-Star Total Quality Assurance Program to ensure consumers get a safe product. Yet, the Register article reports that Wright County Egg and Hallandale Farms, the companies identified in the 2010 recall incident were enrolled in this program but inspectors continued to find violations. Some states are noted as developing their own voluntary inspectional programs, but Iowa seems to be missing.
One year later, the burden of quality and safety should not be on the inspectional system, but rather on the producers to provide quality and consistency. Consumers sometimes have limited options in product consumption, and eggs certainly fill that category. Eggs exist in many other food and service-oriented supply chains such as restaurants where brands stand on their reputations.
Consumers and producers need to add their collective voices or we all run the risk of yet another outbreak. The status quo is not going to cut-it.
Add you voice, demonstrate your concern and call-for-action.