Food and Drug Administration investigators have found rodents, seeping manure and even maggots at the Iowa egg farms believed to be responsible for as many as 1,500 cases of salmonella poisoning.
FDA officials released their initial observations of the ongoing investigations at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms on Monday. The two farms recalled more than half a billion eggs after salmonella illnesses were linked to their products earlier this month.
Reports released by the FDA show numerous violations at both farms, including rodent, bug and wild bird infestation, uncontained manure, holes in walls and other problems that could have caused the outbreak. Several positive samples of salmonella have been found at both farms.
At Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, chicken manure was heaped 4 to 8 feet high with the access doors forced open by the pile of manure, allowing “open access to wildlife or domesticated animals," the inspection reports noted.
Among the observations of the investigators:
— Live rodents and mice at both farms;
— Structural damage and holes in many locations at both farms, allowing wildlife access;
— Escaped chickens tracking manure through the houses;
— Employees not changing clothing properly when moving from one location to another and not sanitizing equipment properly;
— "Live flies too numerous to count" on egg belts, in the feed, on the eggs themselves at Wright County Egg;
— Dead and live maggots "too numerous to count" on the manure pit floor in one location at Wright County Egg;
— Nonchicken feathers in a laying house and wild birds flying in and out of two facilities at Wright County Egg;
— Manure seeping through the foundation to the outside of laying houses in 13 locations at Wright County Egg;
— Rusted holes in feed bins and birds flying over the feed bins at Wright County Egg
Animal feces and access to wildlife are normally the main concern of investigators looking for causes of an outbreak, as illnesses such as salmonella originate from feces.
FDA officials declined to say whether the conditions were typical of other egg producing plants in the U.S., saying only that the farms violated not only their own standards but new egg rules that took effect in July. Officials said they still cannot speculate on how the eggs were contaminated.
“They are significant observations and deviations from what should happen,” said Mike Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, at a briefing for reporters.
A poultry industry specialist cautioned, however, that such conditions likely exist at many egg farms in the U.S.
Ken Koelkebeck, an extension specialist with the University of Illinois, hadn't seen the FDA inspection reports posted Monday. But he said that one might routinely find 8-foot piles of manure, rodents and maggots.
"A chicken house that doesn't have mice in it is very rare. It's common across the board," Koelkebeck said. "What I hear described as violations are not really specific to the two farms only. This could happen on any farm."
The FDA has not traditionally inspected egg farms until there has been a problem. But the agency will now inspect all of the nation's largest farms by the end of next year, the Obama administration announced last week.
Check back for more on this developing story.