WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More cases of food-borne illness are likely in a U.S. salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people in three states and prompted a nationwide recall of suspect eggs, a federal official said on Thursday.
State officials in California, Colorado and Minnesota have linked more than 270 illnesses to eggs from Wright County Egg in northern Iowa. The company voluntarily recalled 380 million eggs that were distributed throughout the country.
“I would anticipate we will be seeing more illnesses reported and likely as a result of this outbreak,” Christopher Braden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a telephone news conference. It often takes two or three weeks for an illness to be reported to CDC.
During the teleconference, Food and Drug Administration officials said the recall was among the largest egg recalls in recent years. Fifteen investigators were working on a probe that includes tests of laying hens at the Galt, Iowa, farm for salmonella infection. No results were available yet.
Nearly 2,000 cases of salmonella were reported from May to July, Braden said, a period during which 700 cases would be usual. Many were a common subtype of the bacteria.
“We can’t say all 2,000 are related to this outbreak,” he said.
CDC said later it was using advanced molecular tests to help identify cases from the outbreak. It said a traceback by state and federal officials found eggs from Wright County Egg factored in five cases in California, Colorado and Minnesota.
Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain and sometimes more serious illness or death.
Some 266 cases of salmonella in California have been linked to the eggs, according to Los Angeles County officials. Seven cases in Minnesota are linked to the Iowa eggs, say state health officials. The Colorado Department of Public Health says some of 28 salmonella cases during June and July “likely” are linked to eggs from Wright County Egg.
Salmonella investigations are underway in 13 states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
The 380 million eggs in the recall are equal to nearly all the eggs consumed by Americans in two days, according to Agriculture Department figures. It says Americans will consume 247 eggs apiece this year.
Wright County Egg announced the voluntary nationwide recall of eggs produced since May 19 on Friday and expanded it on Wednesday to include eggs from two other sites. Wright County Egg is part of DeCoster Farms, a family-run agribusiness.
The eggs were sold under the brand names Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps, James Farms, Glenview and Pacific Coast. Their cartons are stamped on the end with P-1720, P-1942 P-1026, P-1413 or P-1946 and followed by a number from 136 to 229.
An FDA egg-safety rule took effect on July 9 that requires large-scale producers to take steps such as refrigerating eggs, safeguarding feed and water supplies from contamination and testing in the poultry house for salmonella bacteria.
If the bacterium is found, producers must test eggs for it and if the eggs are contaminated, they must be treated to destroy the bacteria or divert them to non-food use.
Associate FDA Commissioner Jeff Farrar said if the rule had taken effect earlier, “the risk of illness would have been reduced.” Farrar demurred at suggestions the outbreak could have been prevented if the rule was implemented earlier and at a question of whether the rule fell short in this case.