Sheila Mclaughlin at the Cincinnati Enquirer today reported that as many as 264 restaurants in the greater Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis metro areas received recalled eggs from Wright County Egg company, which has been linked to a major Salmonella outbreak that has sickened thousands.  

Documents from the Indiana Department of Health indicate that 264 Asian restaurants in Greater Cincinnati, Louisville and Indianapolis received the Wright County eggs through DW Trading, and that many have already used them.

Hamilton County health inspectors were checking Friday on six Asian restaurants that apparently were not notified of the recall by DW Trading.

Spokeswoman Megan Hummel did not know how many total restaurants in Hamilton County may have received the eggs. She and others are cautioning Asian restaurant patrons not to panic.

“It’s different if you are in some type of other restaurant where they have a Caesar salad and sometimes it has raw eggs in it – or a chocolate mousse. You don’t get those at Asian restaurants. They are usually scrambled up and should be cooked hard,” Hummel said

Aside from Wright County Egg’s clear failures, which lead to this public health nightmare, Ms. Mclaughlin raises another issue of pre-eminent concern in foodpoisoning outbreaks, particularly outbreaks and recalls the magnitude of this one:  the importance of all companies in the chain of distribution of recalled products doing all they can to notify retail centers that they have received contaminated food. 

As with many problems that we currently face in our food supply, this one is particularly potent in large part because of the nature of our production and distribution systems. This is also a discussion that is not only long overdue (see 2007 ConAgra pot pie outbreak), but has been raised multiple times before. Phyllis Entis, at recently made several recommendations to address the problem:

1. Provide a retail distribution list for all recalls. The list should include food service outlets, restaurants, cafés, and institutional kitchens – not just retail stores.

2. Require retail stores to post a prominent recall notice on the store shelf or refrigerator/freezer where the recalled product is typically displayed. This is already done in some countries, including the United Kingdom.

3. Fine retailers who ignore recall notices and neglect to remove recalled products from sale. This has been done in Australia.

4. Post on FDA and USDA web sites in a timely fashion the reports for all inspections during which "significant violations" or "significant deviations" were noted (FDA does this selectively, based on its perception of the public’s interest in the results of specific inspections).

5. Post on FDA and USDA web sites in a timely fashion all Warning Letters and other enforcement actions taken (FDA posts Warning Letters, although not always timely).

I would also add a report back requirement for retailers–i.e. that the retailer must report back to (agency/recalling company) within a certain number of days of receiving notice of a recall through dedicated channels, plus fines for each day that the retailer does not report back as required. Something for the FDA to consider when the Food Safety Modernization Act is finally passed.