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.
The Aug. 18 recall includes eggs with Julian dates ranging from 136 to 229 and plant numbers 1720 and 1942. They were sold under the brand names:
- Farm Fresh
- James Farms
- Mountain Dairy
- Pacific Coast
The Aug. 13 recall includes eggs with Julian dates ranging from 136 to 225 and plant numbers 1026, 1413, and 1946. They were sold under the brand names:
- Dutch Farms
- Farm Fresh
- Mountain Dairy
Dutch Farms says that it does not distribute eggs from Wright County Eggs, but that some of its packaging was mistakenly used to pack eggs distributed only to Walgreen's stores in Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota, and Arkansas. The FDA is investigating this claim.
Ironically, the FDA's new egg safety rule went into effect on July 9, just after the Wright Egg contamination was discovered. That rule, if followed, might well have averted or lessened the extent of the current outbreak, Braden and McGarry said.
How to Avoid Food Poisoning From Eggs
This salmonella outbreak comes from eggs of salmonella-infected hens that carry the bacteria in their ovaries and pass it to eggs as they are being formed.
Eggs that appear to be fresh and normal may actually harbor salmonella.
If you like your eggs prepared over easy, you may want to change your egg-eating habits. Here's the CDC's advice on how to avoid food poisoning from eggs:
- Don’t eat recalled eggs or products containing recalled eggs. Recalled eggs might still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes. People who have recalled eggs should discard them or return them to their retailer for a refund.
- People who think they might have become ill from eating recalled eggs should consult their health care providers.
- Keep eggs refrigerated at least to 45 degrees F at all times.
- Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
- Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
- Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.
- Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.
- Don't eat raw eggs.
- Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.
- Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly people, and people with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.