While we all wait to see whether Jack DeCoster exercises his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, certain senators on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations who need to be preparing for the Egg Outbreak hearing may find the CDC’s detailed timeline, released today (to my knowledge) extremely helpful in framing the many questions that must be raised, if not answered. Questions, ultimately, that implicate the actions of Wright County Egg, Hillandale Farms, and the USDA and FDA.
My timeline released a few days ago, which is not nearly as pretty as the CDC’s, starts on August 13–the day that Wright County Egg first recalled eggs. But we’re increasingly finding out, however, that the problems that lead to such widespread contamination at Wright County Egg began much earlier than that. The epidemiological investigation into the between 4 and 5 fold increase in Salmonella enteritidis illnesses began in the late spring, when the first clusters of illnesses (or sub-outbreak) were identified by, who else, the Minnesota Department of Health. Thereafter, health departments in various states identified at least 29 restaurant or event associated outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis. Eventually, by July 29, due to the contributions of multiple state health departments (including California and Minnesota), investigators were able to finger Wright County Egg as the common distributor of eggs linked to all of the 29 sub outbreaks.
Also occuring before the outbreak was discovered, recognized, and the recall issued, were the actions of Wright County Egg in causing this outbreak. Hopefully, this is something that will be sorted through a bit at the hearing. After all, it’s not as if the senators on the Subcomittee for Oversight and Investigations don’t have enough material:
August 30, 2010: With the investigation ongoing, FDA releases its 483 Inspection Report detailing findings of gross violations of health and safety standards in egg production at Wright County Egg.
- Chicken manure located in the manure pits below the egg laying operations was observed to be approximately 4 feet high to 8 feet high at [multiple]locations. The outside access doors to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.
- Un-baited, unsealed holes appearing to be rodent burrows located along the second floor baseboards were observed.
- Dark liquid which appeared to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses at [multiple] locations.
- Standing water approximately 3 inches deep was observed at the southeast corner of the manure pit located inside Layer 1 – House 13.
- Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operations in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 – Houses 9 and 16. The un-caged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area.
- Layer 3 – House 11, the house entrance door to access both House 11 and 12 was blocked with excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits.
- There were between 2 to 5 live mice observed inside the egg laying Houses 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14.
- Live and dead flies too numerous to count were observed at [multiple] locations inside the egg laying houses. The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in the different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor located in Layer 2 – House 7.
September 4, 2010: Former employees of Wright County Egg begin to speak out about conditions at the egg production facility. Among the concerning violations revealed during CBS’s “The Early Show” on September 4, 2010:
- repacking old eggs as fresh
- live cats, live mice, dead mice, chicken bones, live chickens, dead chickens
- the company routinely took eggs returned by grocery stores and repackaged them as fresh
September 9, 2010: Jens Manuel Krogstad and Phil Brasher at the Des Moines Register publish another article on the conditions at Wright County Egg during the egg outbreak. The reports on which the article was based came from past and present workers at the company:
- Dozens of chickens died daily, their bodies lying undiscovered in cages for days, and perhaps weeks, at a time, they said. "There’s always been mice," former worker Lucas Garcias said through an interpreter. "I saw maggots and sometimes mice on the conveyor belt." NOTE: the presence of rodents and other vermin is to be expected in henhouse operations, but this is no excuse for the apparent level of infestation at Wright County Egg. FURTHER NOTE: the FDA’s Egg Rule sets forth specific measures to take for control of vermin infestation.
- Garcias, a former Dominican employee at Wright County Egg who worked there for a decade before the outbreak said he always knew when the doors to the hen houses were open because ammonia wafted into his building and made his eyes water. According to the Des Moines Register article, "News of the salmonella outbreak did not come as a shock, he said. "I wasn’t surprised, because they’re not careful," he said through an interpreter. "They could do more."
- Hundreds of mice killed by poison can fill about 50 cage traps in each hen house several times a week, he said. About four months ago, he said he noticed workers emptying the cages once a week or less. "Lately, there have been a lot of mice," another worker said through an interpreter. "It’s been kind of ignored. But now it’s better. Ever since it came out that there was disease, they started working on it."
- Current workers described a daily routine that starts at 6:30 a.m. by checking the chicken’s drinking water. They then toss dead chickens into bins about as tall as their chests. Workers estimate they find as many as 20 dead chickens per hen house daily, though that number can triple on hot summer days. Sometimes days go by before a decomposing chicken is discovered, the workers said. Once a week, workers said they inspect the cages with flashlights to look for chickens they may have missed. Trampel, the ISU poultry veterinarian, said a 0.1 percent mortality rate for caged laying hens is typical. Dead chickens should be picked up every day, he said. Several former employees said deceased chickens sometimes went undiscovered for a week or more. "They’d leave them there for weeks," Jorge Santiago said through an interpreter.