THE BLOG
08/23/2010 09:47 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"I am the Egg [Rule] ... " Would It Have Prevented the Salmonella Outbreak?

Sorry, the old Beatles song keeps running through my head. And, with 550,000,000 eggs being recalled, and well over 1,200 people sick (and rising), I really should not be making jokes.

Not surprisingly I usually start my morning reading Phil Brasher in the Des Moines Register. I was struck by his article the other morning, "New rules could have prevented salmonella outbreak," and this quote:

"There are preventive measures that would have been in place that could have prevented this, if it (the new regulatory program) had been in place earlier than in July," said Sherri McGarry of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

I then picked up my well-read "Egg Rule" also known as "Federal Register Final Rule (July 9, 2009, 74 FR 33030): Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation," for what exactly the rule now requires. Here are the highlights:

• Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella bacteria

• Establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment

• Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella Enteritidis. If the tests find the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must be tested over an eight-week time period (four tests at two-week intervals); if any of the four egg tests is positive, the producer must further process the eggs to destroy the bacteria, or divert the eggs to a non-food use

• Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis

• Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees F during storage and transportation no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid (this requirement also applies to egg producers whose eggs receive a treatment, such as pasteurization).

• Environmental Testing for SE. There are specific requirements on when and how to test for SE and coordination with pullet testing.

• Egg Testing for SE. Whenever you have reason to know/suspect of presence of SE. Two-week intervals in positive poultry houses.

OK, I know the Egg Rule did not go into final effect until July 2010, but really, can anyone argue that the highlights above should not have been voluntarily implemented before that?

A few other questions:

Where were the USDA inspectors? Remember, USDA has jurisdiction over the chickens and FDA over the eggs.

Why did it take local, state and federal authorities since May -- when the outbreak began -- to figure it out announce it to the public?

"I am the Egg [Rule}..."

As Mary Clare Jalonick of the AP points out, DeCoster (owner of Wright County Egg) is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:

- In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines to settle citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations at DeCoster's farm in Turner, Maine. Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said conditions were "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop." He cited unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions.

- In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a "habitual violator" of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff into waterways. The label made him subject to increased penalties and prohibited him from building new farms.

- In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster's Wright County plants.
- In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. The farm had been the subject of at least three previous raids.

- In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming - the successor company to DeCoster Egg Farms - agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden-camera investigation by an animal welfare organization.

Seems like this fellow is one bad egg? So, USDA, FDA -- who was watching the hen house?

"I am the Egg [Rule}..."