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FDA warns Iowa egg producer involved in salmonella outbreak to clean up sanitation violations

Wright County Egg says it has corrected the shortcomings cited by the agency. The outbreak sickened at least 1,600 people and led to the largest egg recall in history.

October 18, 2010|By Andrew Zajac, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Food and Drug Administration has slapped a warning letter on Wright County Egg, the Iowa egg producer at the center of last summer's salmonella outbreak, for failure to control rodents and other sanitation violations.

The warning letter, dated Friday and made public Monday, followed weeks of negotiations between Wright County Egg and federal officials over how the company would correct a lengthy list of sanitation and biosecurity deficiencies identified by FDA inspectors in visits to the mammoth laying facilities.

Failure to correct violations noted in the warning letter could lead to seizure of eggs or closure of the Wright County facilities, according to the FDA document.

The outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis sickened at least 1,600 people and led to the recall of about 550 million eggs — the largest such recall in history.

In a statement, Wright County Egg said that it had corrected shortcomings cited by the FDA and that it continued "to cooperate fully" with the agency.

A second egg producer, Hillandale Farms of Iowa, has been cleared to resume selling eggs to consumers from three of its seven Iowa henhouses at a facility in West Union, Iowa. The company had shared a feed supplier with Wright County Egg.

Hillandale notified the FDA that it planned to resume shipments of shell eggs Monday and would continue testing at four other henhouses before attempting to market eggs from them.

Since the recall began in mid-August, Wright County Egg and Hillandale have been sending eggs to facilities where eggs were pasteurized to eliminate the threat of salmonella. These eggs were then used in products like cake mixes.

In congressional testimony Sept. 22, Wright County Egg owner Austin DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, who manages the north central Iowa facilities, said they believed that the contamination resulted from tainted feed ingredients.

The distribution of contaminated eggs is under criminal investigation by the FDA and the Justice Department.

In another recall announcement Monday, healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson said its McNeil Consumer Healthcare subsidiary was recalling about 128,000 bottles of 50-count Tylenol 8 Hour caplets because of a musty smell linked to a chemical used to treat wooden shipping pallets.

The company described the chances of harm from the tainted bottles as remote and said that problems reported to the company so far were "temporary and non-serious."

The same chemical was implicated in a November 2009 recall of a variety of McNeil over-the-counter products and was one in a string of recalls made by the company over the last two years, including the removal of 136 million bottles of Children's Tylenol and other pediatric over-the-counter medicines in April.

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