Salmonella strains matching those identified in the nationwide outbreak have been found at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa, the Food and Drug Administration announced today.
The news came on the same day the House Energy and Commerce Committee called a hearing for Sept. 14 to examine the nation's largest egg recall. Yesterday, Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., sent letters to the FDA and the Agriculture Department requesting documents and information on the recall.
The FDA investigation found evidence of salmonella in the chicken feed produced at the Wright County Egg operation and fed to animals at Wright County and Hillandale.
"We don't know, at this point, how, when, and where this feed could have been contaminated," said Jeff Farrar, the FDA's associate commissioner for food protection. "The finding of a positive in the feed essentially raises a lot of additional questions to answer at this point." Farrar said the agency was trying to confirm whether the contaminated feed was distributed to other farms as well.
FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein emphasized that the agency had not found that the feed caused the salmonella contamination, saying environmental factors could have brought the salmonella into the feed after the animals were infected. Further investigation into the root cause is ongoing.
"We're not concluding any cause and effect," said Sharfstein. "There are multiple potential routes to contamination and this may just be part of the overall contaminations."
In their letter to the FDA and USDA, Waxman and Stupak asked the agencies to turn over all documents on ongoing investigations at Wright County and Hillandale, including contracts between the FDA and Iowa state agencies responsible for inspecting the farms and any correspondence between the federal and state agencies and the contaminated farms.
Farrar, speaking to reporters on a conference call, addressed criticisms that the agency had moved too slowly to investigate the outbreak, saying there was "always room for improvement." But Farrar also noted that food safety legislation pending in the Senate could have sped up the investigation by providing the agency with the authority to trace products to producers, access company documents and initiate a mandatory food recall.
Christopher Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of reported salmonella cases from May 1 through Aug. 25 had topped 2,400, making this the largest salmonella outbreak since the agency started recording relevant data in the 1970s.