Three Dot Journalism: Salmonella Omelets

Michael Pollan on egg recall and the high costs of cheap food: “‘We all like cheap food. But when we’re spending billions to deal with a salmonella outbreak, it isn’t really as cheap as it seems.’” (Via Grist – the latest from Grist.)

How many ‘bodies in the street’ are needed? | Michael Tomasky: “The egg salmonella outbreak here in the states, which has so far made about 1,500 people sick, is the result of several factors, but notably the tremendous consolidation of egg-farming in the last two decades into a smaller number of large factory farms, and the lack of regulatory oversight.” (Via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

Basic hygiene breached at US farms: “US politicians are coming under pressure to increase regulation of the country’s largest egg producers after a federal inspection of two companies at the centre of a salmonella scare revealed breaches of basic hygiene.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, both in Iowa, found piles of chicken manure up to 2.5 metres (8ft) high beneath the hens’ cages. Employees crushed flies underfoot and live and dead maggots were seen in a manure pit.

At Wright County pigeons roosted in an air vent and wild birds flew in and out of the chicken house. Mice were observed at both farms, as were chickens which had escaped their cages and were seen moving between manure piles and caged areas.

Water used to clean the eggs was tested and found to contain the same salmonella bacteria that has been identified as the cause of the largest outbreak of the disease in the US since records began more than 30 years ago, with 1,500 people infected.

Between them, the two farms have recalled more than half a billion eggs, 380m from Wright County and 170m from Hillandale. The two producers have almost 8 million hens.

Food safety experts said the massive scale of the two operations was typical in an industry that has seen production concentrated in fewer and fewer gigantic farms. In 1987, 95% of laying hens were in the hands of 2,500 farms. Today, that figure is accounted for by 192 egg producers.” (Via guardian.co.uk.)

Egg Recalls Ripple Through Food Supply by Scott Hensley: “Now we’re seeing the recall ripple effects of the massive egg contamination in Iowa.

Moark, an egg marketer in California, said it’s recalling 291,600 eggs (or 24,300 dozen) sold under the brand-names Albertsons, Yucaipa Valley, Farmer’s Gems and Mountain Dairy.

New problem? Not exactly. We checked with a Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman who called this a ‘sub-recall.’ Huh?

It turns out that Moark gets eggs from Hillandale Farms of Iowa, which recalled 170 million eggs last Friday, repackages them and sells them under a bunch of different names. So the Moark recall is really an echo of the Hillandale problems.

Less than 200 big companies — including Hillandale and Wright County Egg, the firms at the center of the current recalls — supply 95 percent of the eggs in this country, the Washington Post reports.

Wholesalers and distributors routinely repackage those eggs for sale under other names.

Enter Moark. When the company learned some its eggs had come from Hillandale, Moark told its customers to remove the affected ones from shelves and let the FDA know what was going on. ‘None of the eggs were produced at Moark facilities or operations,’ Craig Willardson, Moark’s CEO, said in a statement.

Moark is just the latest California connection. Some 266 cases of salmonella that may be related to egg contamination have been identified in the state so far, the Los Angeles Timesreported.

Turns out that Iowa is the No. 1 producer of eggs by a country mile. Nearly 53 million hens were laying eggs in Iowa — about double the number in Ohio, the egg runner-up — according to 2008 figures from the Iowa Egg Council.

And who’s snapping up all those eggs? Well, a lot of Californians. The Des Moines Registerreports about 7 percent of Iowa’s eggs go to the Golden State.

California produces a lot of eggs, but not enough to meet residents’ demand. About one-third of shell eggs, the type affected by the recall, sold in California come from out of state. And Iowa eggs account from more than 40 percent of California’s egg ‘imports,’ the Register says. (Via NPR Blogs: Shots – Health News Blog.)

and in case you think it’s just the eggs…

Walmart, Tyson recall 380,000 pounds of tainted ‘deli meats’: “Tyson is the largest U.S. beef packer; it slaughters and processes one of every four cows raised in America. It also wraps up the meat of one-fifth of all U.S. pigs, making it our second-largest pork processor. (For good measure, it also stands as our largest poultry producer.)…” (Via Grist.)

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