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Farms fell short on safety, FDA chief says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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FDA chief discusses egg recall
  • FDA commissioner says "about 1,000" sickened by salmonella
  • Producer says it's "devastated" by outbreak
  • Hillandale Farms says it shared supplier with Wright County Egg
  • Wright County says managers addressed problems "swiftly and effectively"

The Egg Safety Center has a complete list of recalled eggs, their expiration dates, and brands. Check the situation in your state. Here are safety tips.

Washington (CNN) -- The companies that have recalled more than half a billion eggs following a salmonella outbreak fell short of safety standards at their farms, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Sunday.

"There's no question these farms involved in the recall were not operating with the standards of practice we consider responsible," Hamburg told CNN.

She said "about 1,000" people have been sickened by a salmonella outbreak that federal regulators have traced back to two Iowa egg producers. One of those companies said Sunday it is "devastated" by the possible connection between its product and salmonella.

Hillandale Farms of Iowa announced Friday it was recalling more than 170 million eggs. Another 380 million have been recalled by another Iowa producer, Wright County Egg, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked the eggs to an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people nationwide.

You don't have to be cracking and chugging like Rocky Balboa to come into contact with raw eggs. Here are a few dishes in which raw or undercooked eggs might pop up:

• Cake batter
• Cookie dough
• Some ice creams
• Steak tartare
• Caesar dressing
• Bearnaise sauce
• Hollandaise
• Homemade mayonnaise
• Aoli
• Eggnog
• Mousse
• Egg white cocktails like a Ramos Gin Fizz
• Tiramisu
• Meringue

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When salmonella changes your life

"We are devastated that our eggs have been implicated in making people sick," Hillandale Farms, one of the largest U.S. producers, said in a statement issued Sunday. "We have never had a product recall in our 45-year history, and it flies in the face of our mission to provide wholesome, nutritious food for the American public. We regret that anyone might have become ill, and the concern and disruption this has caused our customers."

The eggs were shipped to 17 states across the country. The company said it would work with the FDA to review its "every phase of our operation" and fix any problems.

Hillandale Farms said it shared "a number of common suppliers" with Wright County Egg, including a company called Quality Egg, which provided feed and young birds.

Both Wright County and Quality Egg are owned by the DeCoster family, which has a string of agribusiness interests in the Midwest and Northeast. Those companies' records have come under new scrutiny since the recalls were announced earlier this month.

In June, company owner Jack DeCoster admitted to 10 civil counts of animal cruelty in Maine after a nonprofit animal welfare group conducted an undercover video investigation and forwarded its findings to Maine animal welfare officials. Dr. Donald E. Hoenig, the Maine state veterinarian, said the allegations included keeping too many birds in case, failing to treat injured chickens or promptly remove dead animals and improper euthanization.

Hoenig said DeCoster and his company agreed to a $25,000 fine and made a $100,000 payment to reimburse the state for future monitoring of the facility.

In 1996, the Labor Department accused DeCoster of maintaining "sweatshop conditions" for migrant workers at its Turner, Maine, chicken farm, where then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said workers risked salmonella by handling dead chickens and manure with their bare hands. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined it $3.6 million.

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In January 2002, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hit another DeCoster company with allegations that its supervisors sexually assaulted and harassed female employees, including some of whom were in the country illegally, and threatened to retaliate against them if they complained. The managers were fired for "unrelated reasons," the EEOC said, and DeCoster agreed to pay a settlement of more than $1.5 million.

And in 2000, Iowa's attorney general declared DeCoster a "habitual violator" of state environmental laws after a series of discharges of manure from his hog-farming operations. He paid a $150,000 penalty, had to build six concrete storage structures and his company was barred from expanding those operations.

In a statement issued Sunday night, Wright County Egg said it was working with the FDA on the current recalls and defended its record.

"When issues have been raised about our farms, our management team has addressed them swiftly and effectively, working with recognized outside experts to identify and establish corrective measures for our operations," it said. "We are approaching our work with FDA in the same forthright manner."

While the recall involves hundreds of millions of eggs, they represent less than 1 percent of the 80 billion eggs produced in the United States each year, said Krista Eberle, director of the food safety program at the trade association Egg Safety Institute.

"This is one of the larger recalls that have happened," Eberle said. But she added, "This is an extremely rare occurrence."

CNN's Don Lemon, Sandra Endo and Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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