msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/26/2010 7:33:45 PM ET 2010-08-26T23:33:45

Food and Drug Administration officials say they have found positive samples of salmonella that link two Iowa farms to a massive egg recall.

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Investigators found salmonella in chicken feed at Wright County Egg that was used by that farm and also Hillandale Farms, the FDA said. Authorities also found additional samples of salmonella in other locations at Wright County Egg. More than 550 million eggs from the two farms were recalled this month after they were linked to salmonella poisoning in several states.

Outbreak not expected to expand
One of the positive samples for salmonella was found in an ingredient sold to Wright County Egg from a third party supplier, Central Bi-Products, according to Wright County Egg, raising new questions as to whether other egg farms also could have received contaminated feed. FDA officials so far have said they don't believe the outbreak will expand beyond the two farms.

Also Thursday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there could now be as many as 1,470 illnesses linked to the outbreak, about 200 more than previously thought.

Sherri McGarry of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said the salmonella found at Wright County Egg matches the fingerprint of the salmonella found in many of those who were sickened. She said the tests indicate that contaminated feed is a source of the outbreak but possibly not the only source.

McGarry and other FDA officials emphasized in a briefing for reporters that the agency's investigation is ongoing, and that they do not yet know how the feed became contaminated. Investigators are analyzing as many as 600 samples from 24 locations at the two farms.

Wright County Egg said one of the feed ingredients from Central Bi-Products was held separately in a bin that was tested by FDA officials. Wright County Egg spokeswoman Hinda Mitchell said Central Bi-Products has no ties to the two farms and they receive the feed ingredient, which contains meat and bone meal, from a distributor.

"We will work with FDA as they expand their review of feed ingredients purchased from outside vendors for our farm, as well as for their ongoing review of our farms," said the Wright County Egg statement attributed to unidentified company officials.

FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said, "FDA did collect samples of feed ingredients and did identify a salmonella enteritidis positive result from a feed ingredient collected from an unmarked bin. Because the bin was not marked, the agency cannot confirm if the product came from a third-party supplier."

A company listed as Central Bi-Products in Redwood Falls, Minn., that produces "poultry raw material" did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Wright County Egg's statement also asserted that a positive environmental test does not mean eggs from that barn would have salmonella. Mitchell said the company had tested some eggs from one of the barns where salmonella was found since July, and those eggs did not test positive for salmonella. The company began testing under new rules put in place for the egg industry this summer to reduce occurrences of the disease.

The feed mill where the salmonella was found operates as part of the Wright County Egg facility and also provides feed to Hillandale Farms. Officials said they are not yet sure whether the feed came to the farm contaminated or was contaminated at the farms. They said there is no evidence at this time that the feed went to any other farms.

No cause confirmed
FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said the investigators are not just looking at the feed, but at the "overall contamination of the facility." Contamination found in the feed could be a part of a larger problem there, he said.

"While they have found it in the feed they are not confirming any sort of cause and effect relationship," he said.

Congress is hoping to get more answers from the two farms, the FDA and the Agriculture Department in September. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee announced it will hold a hearing on the recall Sept. 14.

The committee is inviting Austin "Jack" DeCoster, the owner of Wright County Egg, and Orland Bethel, the owner of Hillandale Farms, to testify. The panel is investigating the recall and has written both farms, asking about company operations, communications with the government and what they knew and when.

The panel has also written the FDA, which oversees the safety of shell eggs, and the Agriculture Department, which oversees other egg products and animal disease. The committee asked for records of inspections and past communications with the two farms, along with other documents. The FDA has said it has "no inspectional history" with the two farms.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who heads the spending committee that oversees the FDA and USDA, has also written letters to the two agencies.

Mitchell, the Wright County Egg spokeswoman, would not say whether DeCoster will attend the September hearing, but said the company is "working right now" to respond to the committee.

"We will approach it in the same forthright manner as we have in our cooperation with FDA to date," Mitchell said.

DeCoster, who has paid millions of dollars in fines over the last 20 years for health, safety, immigration and environmental violations, has not responded to interview requests.

A worker at his office's headquarters near Galt, Iowa, on Wednesday said he wasn't available, and in his home in Clarion, Iowa, on Wednesday, his wife, Patricia, also said he was not around. She said the last few weeks "have been quite a time for us" but declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for Hillandale Farms also said the company is reviewing the committee's questions and "expect to cooperate in the same open manner as we have with the FDA."

The number of illnesses, which can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems, is expected to increase. No deaths have been reported due to this outbreak.

CDC epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Braden said this is the largest outbreak of this strain of salmonella since the start of the agency's surveillance of outbreaks in the late 1970s. The next largest was an outbreak due to raw eggs in ice cream in the 1990s that caused more than 700 illnesses.

Thoroughly cooking eggs can kill the bacteria. But health officials are recommending people throw away or return the recalled eggs.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Tainted eggs being reused in food products

  1. Transcript of: Tainted eggs being reused in food products

    CARL QUINTANILLA, co-host: Now to that latest on the massive egg recall, and some news that might surprise you. Many of the eggs tied to the farms involved in that nationwide salmonella outbreak could still end up in your kitchen in products like ice cream and mayonnaise. Is there really cause for concern? Dr. Nancy Synderman is NBC 's chief medical editor. Nancy , good morning to you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Carl.

    QUINTANILLA: We were told to throw away the eggs that were recalled.

    SNYDERMAN: Right. Right.

    QUINTANILLA: And now we're told that these things are going to show up in products we already buy. How are we supposed to feel about that?

    SNYDERMAN: So I think you have to remember that the things we're supposed to throw away are the tainted eggs, and there's a line in the sand , that stuff is gone. The eggs and the farms that were producing the bad eggs are still making eggs. And what the government is now saying is we will take those to places called breaking plants or cracking plants, where they really -- literally crack open the egg and just use the insides. The insides are then pasteurized and that scientifically we know equivocally, no argument...

    QUINTANILLA: That's foolproof.

    SNYDERMAN: ...will kill salmonella. And then the inside stuff becomes product like cakes, cookies, ice creams, etc.

    QUINTANILLA: Right. Should people be alarmed? Because we're not going to know which products have it. It's probably already in the food supply .

    SNYDERMAN: No. Look , so the most important thing is not to be alarmed.

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Once you pasteurize something it is safe. If you had purchased pasteurized eggs -- but that's only 1 percent of eggs that in your grocery store -- you're going to be OK. It's the unpasteurized stuff. So while I understand that people are very skeptical of the FDA , maybe untrusting of the US government , and saying you've got to be kidding me, the reality is the inside of the eggs, if they are completely cooked or pasteurized, are safe.

    QUINTANILLA: If you've probably bought the recalled eggs...

    SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

    QUINTANILLA: ...can you cook them and will the salmonella then go away?

    SNYDERMAN: You are probably going to be safe. But to be prudent, because this has been a recall, you're best to throw away the eggs that have been recalled. Here's the problem. The FDA just doesn't have a lot of chops. If you're a bad egg producer, I can come to you as the FDA and say, ' Carl , would you please be a good corporate citizen and get rid of the bad eggs .' But I can't mandate you to do it. And that's what's really irritating people. It's almost like we need a reorganization of food such that there's a food czar, a new food bureau, something that combines the USDA and the FDA and puts them together and says 'look, we're going to protect the US Food supply.'

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Spinach, this, hamburger, peanut butter. At some point, the American public is going to say, 'what -- we don't trust anybody.' And too, in a country with the resources that we have, we can't get food from the farm fields to the tables? That is an egregious, egregious move. And frankly, why should Americans trust that our food supply is OK? The stuff that they're going to do to fix these bad eggs , yes, we'll be OK. But I think it raises a much bigger problem than we have to address.

    QUINTANILLA: A lot of cross currents and regulation in this country.

    SNYDERMAN: Well, dopey stuff. Congress has to step up to the plate. This is on their -- they can do this. But Congress is going to have to frankly, get some chops too and do it.

    QUINTANILLA: I like that you feel strongly about this.

    SNYDERMAN: Well, it's just ridiculous. I mean, why shouldn't you trust the food that's on your table?

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

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