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FDA Activates Emergency Command Center; 'Extensive' Investigation Under Way

Aug. 19, 2010 -- As the nationwide egg recall expands, the FDA has activated its emergency command center to direct its "extensive" investigation.

So far, some 380 million eggs have been recalled -- a number that is "evolving," Sherri McGarry, emergency coordinator for the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said today at a joint FDA/CDC news teleconference.

"We would certainly characterize this as one of the largest shell egg recalls in recent history," McGarry said.

Through July 17, the CDC has received some 2,000 reports of illness due to Salmonella Enteritidis, the bacteria causing the outbreak. That’s nearly three times more salmonella illness than is usually seen in late summer, says Christopher R. Braden, MD, acting director of the CDC division responsible for food-borne illness.

"I think we will see more illnesses reported," Braden said at the teleconference.

And reported illnesses represent only a fraction of true infections. In 2004 , the CDC estimated that there were 193,463 Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses with 2,004 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.

This strain of salmonella is extremely common. It accounts for about a fifth of all salmonella infections. In 2000 there were 50 outbreaks, but since 2002 there have been 26 to 35 outbreaks a year.

Shell eggs are by far the most common source of Salmonella Enteritidis illness in the U.S. Of the 47 billion shell eggs Americans eat as table eggs each year, the USDA estimates that 2.3 million are contaminated with this salmonella strain.

The FDA investigation is centered on five plants operated by the Iowa firm Wright County Egg. The firm distributes the eggs nationwide. Eggs included in the recall include a number of prominent brands. Those brands are listed below, but some of the eggs may have been repackaged and sold under different brand names.

The Wright County Egg recall includes eggs in six-, 12-, and 18-egg cartons. The cartons carry a "Julian date" referring to the day of the year and a plant number. Dates and codes can be found stamped on the end of the egg carton or printed on the case label. The plant number begins with the letter P and then the number. The Julian date follows the plant number, for example: P-1720 223.

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