Back in August 2010, after a salmonella outbreak spread across the nation, there was an egg recall of 550 million eggs. Newly released records during a civil lawsuit underway in a Federal Court in California show the owner of the egg company involved knew the hens were contaminated with salmonella months before the recall.
According to the Associated Press, the egg mogul Jack DeCoster and his companies asked Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory to test for salmonella back in January 2010. The company was preparing for federal rules set to take effect in July which required mandatory testing for the bacteria at different stages of production. In January 2010, testing began by collecting samples from DeCoster’s plants.
ISU scientist Darrell Trampel wrote in an email, “If SE is in the livers of the laying hens, it is almost certainly in the eggs at this site,” calling it “a very interesting finding.”
In April, ISU’s Veterinary Diagnostics Lab found traces of salmonella in manure at several Iowa egg-laying plants and internal organs of birds, which were dying at unusually high rates. The scientist found that 43 percent of the poultry houses tested positive for salmonella.
The third-party laboratory released its records due to a subpoena from NuCal Foods, a California company suing DeCoster and his companies in federal court. NuCal bought some of the tainted eggs and later had to recall them, being faced with lawsuits from customers who got sick and lost profit after the salmonella outbreak.
“Our role is to provide a third-party quality assured diagnostic service, and it’s up to the client to interpret the information,” said the lab’s operation director, Roger Main, whose 125-employee lab receives $3.2 million in Iowa tax dollars and conducts about 1 million tests every year.
The laboratory reported the findings of salmonella to the egg producer who requested the test alone, and say as a third-party they had no legal or ethical obligation to alert regulators or consumers.
The FDA now requires producers that find salmonella in the product to conduct more tests and destroy the bacteria or change the course of the contaminated eggs to non-food use.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit against DeCoster and his companies argues that they “did not initiate egg tests or salmonella decontamination” knowing they were not quality while continuing to sell the products. The lawsuit says the defendants hid the filthy conditions at their farms so that they could continue to profit.
DeCoster gave up control of the Iowa based egg company in 2011, releasing this statement to the Associated Press, “While we are committed to working to address outstanding issues related to the outbreak, it is important to note we no longer operate any of the farms involved and are no longer in the business of egg production.”