Lab: Iowa egg company warned of salmonella in hens

By Ryan J. Foley

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

It is not clear what DeCoster's operations did after receiving the reports. Charles Hofacre, a University of Georgia scientist who was consulting on the companies' safety program, sent a May 28 email to DeCoster executives proposing several steps to clean up the conditions, warning, "We have to get this level of SE knocked down!"

Hofacre has not returned messages seeking comment, while a home phone listing for Wasmund rings unanswered. Both men have testified before the federal grand jury, court records show. Lawyers for DeCoster did not immediately return messages.

The FDA rule that went into effect in July 2010 requires producers who find salmonella in their poultry houses to either conduct additional testing over several weeks and destroy the bacteria or divert the eggs to non-food use.

As the evidence of salmonella mounted, lab scientist Timothy Frana calculated that DeCoster's operations "would have to test roughly 156,000 eggs" to stay in the shell egg business under the new rule. He warned Main, the lab director, in an email, "even with new positions, I don't see how we could accommodate such levels of testing."

NuCal's lawsuit argues that DeCoster and his companies "did not initiate egg tests or salmonella decontamination" or divert the eggs and continued selling products they knew were tainted. The lawsuit says the defendants' hid the filthy conditions at their farms so that they could continue to profit.

FDA contacted DeCoster's operation, which was doing business as Wright County Egg, on Aug. 9 after scientists traced illnesses in California, Colorado and Minnesota to its eggs. The company issued a recall days later. Hillandale Farms, another Iowa egg producer with ties to Wright County Egg, also was linked to illnesses and recalled its products a week later.

DeCoster told Congress the next month he was horrified to learn his eggs may have been sickening Americans and apologized. But at the Iowa State laboratory, scientists say they acted appropriately in informing the company they had found salmonella. The lab's accreditor, the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, says in its guidelines that laboratories must "ensure the protection of its clients' confidential information and proprietary rights."

"We did our job very well here," said Trampel, the scientist who warned of salmonella inside the birds' organs. "We reported out the results to the owners. We have no authority to do anything beyond that."

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