WASHINGTON - A salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds and led to the recall of hundreds of millions of eggs from one Iowa firm is likely to grow, federal health officials said yesterday.
That's because illnesses occurring after mid-July may not have been reported yet, said Dr. Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Almost 2,000 illnesses from the strain of salmonella linked to the eggs were reported between May and July, about 1,300 more than usual, he said. No deaths have been reported. The CDC is continuing to receive information from state health departments.
"I would anticipate that we will be seeing more illnesses reported, likely as a result of this outbreak," said Braden. The recall of 380 million eggs from Iowa's Wright County Egg is one of the largest shell egg recalls in recent history.
The outbreak could have been prevented if new rules to ensure egg safety had been in place a few months earlier, an FDA spokeswoman said. The rules, which require producers to do more testing for salmonella and take other precautions, went into effect in July.
They had languished for more than a decade after President Bill Clinton first proposed that egg standards be toughened. The FDA said in July that the new safeguards could reduce the number of salmonella cases by nearly 60 percent.
"There are preventive measures that would have been in place that could have prevented this," said Sherri McGarry of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Hinda Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the company, said it abided by guidance issued by the United Egg Producers, an industry group. Those procedures mirror several aspects of the federal egg safety rule.
FDA's McGarry said illnesses were traced back to eggs produced on three of five farms the Iowa company owns. The investigation, which includes sampling, records review and sanitation assessments, is focusing on those three farms.
Salmonella is the most common form of food poisoning from bacteria, and the strain involved in the outbreak is the most common kind, accounting for roughly 20 percent of all such food poisonings.