Eggs

Book CoverRemember Galt, IA-based Wright County Egg—the key factory farm involved in August’s recall of 500,000 eggs after a multistate salmonella outbreak? The company whose owner,  Austin “Jack” DeCoster, was called a corporate criminal by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich? 

After the recall, DeCoster was required to outline corrective actions in a formal letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Not surprisingly, the agency has found his proposed measures to be sorely lacking. Kansas City District Director John  W. Thorsky has sent DeCoster a warning letter that requires “prompt and aggressive actions” to correct a host of unresolved problems. If DeCoster fails to comply, the FDA can enjoin his company from selling eggs or seize the foul farm.

The FDA letter cites “serious deviations” from the federal code that governs production, storage and transportation of shell eggs. It also reveals that Wright County Egg has prepared, packed or held eggs in unsanitary conditions that allow contamination with filth.

Among the specific charges:

  1. The company has failed to take basic biosecurity measures to ensure there is no introduction or transfer of the salmonella bacterium. For example, employees neglect to change protective clothing when moving from one henhouse to another, which means bacteria can be transferred between houses.
  2. Pest control remains a significant problem, with the FDA highlighting live and dead flies “too numerous to count.” Wright has failed to eliminate rodent hiding places, and his traps and bait stations have been deemed inadequate.
  3. Henhouses lack proper seals, which means chickens can romp in overflowing manure, and pigeons can enter cages.
  4. Dead-hen trucks were neither washed nor disinfected when moving from farm to farm.

Thorsky’s letter cites DeCoster’s responsibility to ensure his company operates in compliance with federal law to prevent further violations. The next step: further FDA inspections to see if appropriate changes have been made.

But why give DeCoster another chance? He has played fast and loose with safety laws for years, according to the New York Times. Profits appear to be his only priority, and Reich says DeCoster regards fines as a cost of doing business. How many times has he been allowed to pay his way out of corporate negligence?

Shut him down, FDA. Make him an example. Only then will other companies get the message.

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Photo: John C. Abell