Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Salmonella, Eggs, and Manure: Good News, the Mice are Alive

"Egg Farms Violated Safety Rules"
Business Day, The New York Times (August 30, 2010)

"Barns infested with flies, maggots and scurrying rodents, and overflowing manure pits were among the widespread food safety problems that federal inspectors found at a group of Iowa egg farms at the heart of a nationwide recall and salmonella outbreak.

"Inspection reports released by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday described — often in nose-pinching detail — possible ways that salmonella could have been spread undetected through the vast complexes of two companies.

"The inspections, conducted over the last three weeks, were the first to check compliance by large egg-producing companies with new federal egg safety rules that were written well before the current outbreak, but went into effect only last month...."

So far, no real surprise: since salmonella isn't supposed to be in eggs that get into America's food distribution system, not finding violations of common-sense procedures would have been noteworthy.

The two companies involved are taking what is getting to be a familiar line in situations like this:

"...Both companies said that they had acted quickly to correct problems and were continuing to cooperate with regulators. The reports cited numerous instances in which both companies had failed to follow through on basic measures meant to keep chickens from becoming infected with salmonella, which can cause them to lay eggs containing the bacteria.

" 'That is not good management, bottom line,' said Kenneth E. Anderson, a professor of poultry science at North Carolina State University. 'I am surprised that an operation was being operated in that manner in this day and age.'..."

" 'That is not good management...'" is, in the Lemming's opinion, a marvelous understatement. Making the end user sick is most definitely not a good idea in any food production business.

Actually, things could have been worse: the rodents they found were alive. If conditions at the facilities had been killing the critters - well, that's not how it went down:

"...Inspection visits to Wright County Egg found barns with abundant rodent holes and gaps in doors, siding and foundations where rodents could enter. Inspectors spotted mice scampering about 11 laying houses....

"...The report on Wright County Egg also described pits beneath laying houses where chicken manure was piled four to eight feet high. It also described hens that had escaped from laying cages tracking through the manure.

"Officials last week said that they were taking a close look at a feed mill operated by Wright County Egg, after tests found salmonella in bone meal, a feed ingredient, and in feed given to young birds, known as pullets. The young birds were raised to become laying hens at both Wright County Egg and Hillandale...."

Some of the barns had been set up so that workers had to walk through one barn to get to another. That probably saved a few bucks, somewhere along the line - but it also violated regulations, since it makes it easier to track bacteria from one barn to another.

What were They Thinking?

Most poultry operations are not run by someone who's been in trouble for health violations and accused of gross mistreatment of employees. Farmers I've known are decent folks - and even if they weren't, would be sharp enough to know that it's simply not a good idea to get in trouble with the law and spread disease and pestilence.

Then, there's the joker who's running those egg mills.

Still, those are two farms. Big ones, but far from the only ones producing eggs in America.

It's sort of like the time, not too long ago, when the chief honcho at a peanut production company apparently decided to ship poisoned peanuts. (February 26, 2009) Sure, that's less expensive in the short run than dumping a product that'll make people sick. Or, in the case of the peanuts, dead.

Long-term, though? The Lemming don't think spreading disease is a good idea: not matter how many dollars it saves up front.
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