A half a billion eggs and thousands of illnesses later, both regulators and industry are moving towards increasing food safety protections for egg production. Phillip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reported today on the two groups’ separate plans for increased scrutiny.
For their part, it appears that egg producers recognize that running an operation the way Wright County Egg was run is bad for business:
Producers "want nothing else to happen like what happened in Iowa," said Howard Magwire, vice president of government relations for the United Egg Producers. The trade group is developing safety standards for the industry that would go beyond federal regulations.
On the regulation side, the Wright County Egg Salmonella enteritidis outbreak was the latest food safety disaster to highlight inadequacies in the U.S. food regulation scheme:
Food safety advocates have criticized the way regulators oversee egg production. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, for example, has personnel on site at egg farms to grade eggs and sends inspectors to farms regularly to check for the cleanliness of packing facilities.
But the FDA, while overseeing henhouses, rarely inspected farms because officials said they until July didn’t have any standards that producers had to meet. Many states, including Iowa, the largest producer of eggs, conducted no inspections, either.
The failures were not only at the federal level. Iowa, like many other states, had conducted no hen house inspections. At least for now, it appears that both industry and regulators are trying to learn from the outbreak:
The United Egg Producers is developing industry standards that will mirror the agency’s production rules and go a step further by requiring participating producers to vaccinate all hens against salmonella. Because of contamination that the food agency found in feed at one of the Iowa operations, the producers’ group also is considering writing sanitation standards for feed mills, Magwire said.
The FDA is promising more scrutiny as well:.
In the wake of the recall, the FDA announced plans to inspect every major farm in the nation, starting with operations that have had past trouble with government officials, and it is working on coordinating oversight with the USDA. Sixteen inspections had been carried out by midmonth. The agency expects to conduct about 600 inspections in the next 14 months.
A "third" wing of food-safety, third-party audits, continues to present a vexing problem. Like other companies later found to have major problems, Wright County Egg had undergone third-party audits and received strong grades. Third-party auditors paid directly by the companies they inspect seem to lack incentive to provide honest feedback. As of yet, neither egg producers nor government agencies have proposed any improvement.