FDA Egg Law Leads to Decrease in Contaminated Iowa Eggs, Iowa State University Study Shows

In spite of recent news reports regarding the current hiatus on egg production facilities by Iowa state public health officials, new data suggests that instances of Salmonella contamination at the production sites for Iowa eggs is becoming less frequent.

Only one of 175 positive environmental tests conducted between 2010 and 2015 showed Salmonella contamination at the eggshell level, and that positive test occurred during a 2010 nationwide recall of over 550 million eggs.

The conclusion that Iowa eggs are less likely to cause consumers to contract Salmonella – simply because the bacteria is found in a lower percentage of the eggs – was drawn from data collected by the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The lab diligently tests almost 13,000 environmental samples from egg-producing facilities in 15 states, including Iowa, each year.

State and federal officials quit inspecting Iowa poultry farms last May during an outbreak of bird flu that swept across multiple states, including Iowa, leading to the slaughter of over 30 million laying hens and turkeys in Iowa. The outbreak cost producers more than one billion dollars, as facilities across the states preemptively killed hens to stop the spread of the disease.

Officials halted inspections, citing fear of a scenario where an official who inspected a farm with bird flu-infected animals might spread the disease to more and more farms statewide. egg-production facilities would spread bird flu to more farms. Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, characterized it as a fear that inspectors could carry the disease from farm to farm.

Critics of the decision to stop inspections, however, claim that the lack of oversight may further jeopardize the safety of both Iowa hens and the eggs they produce. Iowa is the largest egg-producing state in the US, and is currently home to 36,700 laying hens. Although inspection of the facilities are not currently being conducted, there has been no slowdown of samples acquired from poultry houses. Such samples, which may be from egg conveyor belts, chicken manure or the ground, were acquired from over 3,000 laying hens – “about 98 percent of operations nationwide” according to an eastern Iowa news publication – and testing has been ongoing since 2010, the year that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the testing requirement.

The tests required by the law, referred to as the FDA’s Egg Rule, have not slowed as a result of the bird flu outbreak. Yuko Sato, Iowa State University Assistant Professor of poultryt diagnostics and production medicine, said that “over the past year, egg safety testing has been continuous and ongoing.” He continued, saying that “environmental sampling and testing continued throughout Iowa’s avian influenza crisis and its aftermath.” The samples tested as sent to labs such as the one at Iowa State University.

In the event of a positive test result, the Egg Rule requires four tests of egg shells involving 1,000 eggs each.