About 550 million chicken eggs have been recalled because of potential contamination with Salmonella Enteritidis, and reports of associated illness(www.cdc.gov) have climbed dramatically in recent months, according to the CDC.
Federal, state and local public health officials have traced the reported illnesses back to eggs produced by two Iowa farming operations, but Jeff Farrar, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection, said during an Aug. 23 media briefing(www.fda.gov) that since mid-May, the two companies have shipped eggs to wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in more than 20 states.
Christopher Braden, M.D., acting director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases in the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said during the briefing that based on data from the past five years, the CDC would have expected to receive about 700 reports of Salmonella Enteriditis infection from May through July. Instead, the agency received nearly 2,000 reports of illness during that time.
Braden said it can take two to three weeks after a person is exposed to Salmonella and becomes ill for that illness to be reported to the CDC, so additional case reports are likely. He also said that for every reported illness, 30 or more illnesses could go unreported.
It remains unclear how many of the reported illnesses are linked to tainted eggs, Braden added.
Producers Wright County Egg(www.fda.gov) in Galt and Hillandale Farms of Iowa(www.fda.gov) in New Hampton both have recalled millions of eggs. At least four of those producers' customers also have issued recalls.
Information about the recalled egg brands(www.fda.gov) and other identifying information is available on the FDA website.
The CDC said consumers should not eat recalled eggs or products containing recalled eggs, which still might be in some grocery stores, restaurants and consumers' homes. Consumers who have recalled eggs should discard them or return them to their retailer for a refund, the agency said.
Onset of illness occurs 12-72 hours after exposure, and symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting.
Foodsafety.gov(www.foodsafety.gov) advises ill consumers to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
According to the CDC, most people recover within four to seven days without treatment. However, some patients experience severe diarrhea and require hospitalization. The agency said elderly people, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness.
"In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics," the agency said.
The CDC issued the following advice for consumers(www.cdc.gov):
- keep eggs refrigerated to 45 degrees F or cooler at all times;
- discard cracked or dirty eggs;
- wash hands, cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs;
- eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm, and they should be eaten promptly after cooking;
- do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than two hours;
- refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly;
- avoid eating raw eggs and avoid dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe that calls for raw eggs (e.g., Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing);
- young children, elderly people and those with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness, in particular, should avoid consuming raw or undercooked eggs or egg products.
Ironically, the FDA just last month announced new regulations(www.fda.gov) intended to reduce the risk of foodborne disease from egg consumption. The new rules require large egg producers to take preventive measures to keep eggs safe during production, storage and transport. Producers also are required to register with the agency, maintain a prevention plan and document that they are following all relevant regulations.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D., said during the Aug. 23 media briefing that the agency plans to conduct hundreds of inspections during the next 12 months to ensure that the new regulations are being followed.
"We believe that had these rules been in place at an earlier time, it would have very likely enabled us to identify the problems on this farm before this kind of outbreak occurred," she said.
On a broader scale, Hamburg said the FDA is eagerly awaiting a Senate vote on pending food safety legislation(www.opencongress.org) that would give the agency mandatory recall authority, as well as other new powers and resources.
A similar bill, H.R. 2749, was approved by the House last summer, but the Senate has not acted on its version of the measure, which was introduced in March 2009.
"Certainly, it comes as a great surprise to the public to learn that FDA cannot compel recalls, but that recalls to this day remain voluntary," Hamburg said. "And this has been a longstanding gap in FDA's authority.
"The legislation that Congress is currently considering would give us that authority and other critical tools, such as enhanced authorities to trace back products to the source, to require firms to implement preventive controls, and to provide FDA access to important records. It would also strengthen our abilities to ensure the safety of foods being imported into the United States."
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has begun an inquiry(democrats.energycommerce.house.gov) into the Salmonella illness outbreak.