Inspections by the FDA revealed “significant deficiencies” at 197 of the 555 egg farms reviewed by the agency’s own safety inspectors and contract workers, according to data released by the FDA on July 9. That’s 37.9% of farms with safety gaps that include failure to maintain a written Salmonella prevention plan, conduct environmental tests for Salmonella, divert eggs or begin egg testing after a positive environmental sample, and keep required records.
Many of these are bookkeeping infractions that had little to do with food safety, according to Nickolas G. Zimmerman, PhD, associate professor and extension poultry specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park. Last year was the first full year of inspections since egg producers with more than 50,000 laying hens became subject to the Egg Safety Rule. Some states, including Maryland, had already instituted tougher egg inspection standards than the FDA. “Producers in states with lax inspection standards were often unprepared for the FDA inspections. These farms will quickly learn what is needed to stay within FDA regulations, and the failure rate will quickly diminish,” said Dr. Zimmerman.
The FDA classified this group of farms as “Voluntary Action Needed”—that is, the farms should be able to correct deficient practices without any official action by the FDA. Fourteen other farms received official warning letters for more egregiously objectionable conditions.
Most of these were associated with pest management, said Ken Anderson, PhD, professor of poultry science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Most of the 483s [the FDA form used to document inspectional observations] were associated with fly numbers and rodent numbers. The farms certainly need to get these under control, because they have been shown to be a source of microbial contamination.”
But Dr. Anderson said that egg producers have proven to be effective in testing and diverting eggs to pasteurization that might be contaminated due to environmental problems. “That part of the plan is working very well,” he noted. “The plans that I have seen when discussing these issues with the FDA appear to be effective. The bottom line is that yes, there have been a number of 483s, mostly associated with pest management, but largely not associated with microbial contamination.”
From a food safety standpoint, Dr. Zimmerman said that he is more concerned about eggs from very small flock producers. “They are not regulated, and they are convinced eggs from backyard flocks are safer and healthier, which is not true.”
The FDA’s data and links to farm-specific information are available here.