IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A company that promised to clean up Iowa's egg industry after a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2010 said Friday that a recent government safety inspection discovered the bacteria in two of its barns and that it took steps to protect consumers.
Centrum Valley Farms said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the strain of bacteria known as salmonella heidelberg in two of six poultry houses that were tested at its production facility in Clarion, Iowa, during a routine inspection in May. The company said the presence of the bacteria in the barns did not mean any eggs were tainted, but that it nonetheless diverted an unspecified number from the market "in the interest of egg safety."
The company said the eggs were withheld until they tested negative for the bacteria four times and were eventually approved for sale by the FDA.
The plant is under strict oversight because it was one of several in northern Iowa implicated in the 2010 outbreak, which led to the recall of more than 500 million eggs nationwide and sickened an estimated 2,000 customers. During the outbreak, the plant was owned and controlled by Jack DeCoster, an egg magnate with a long history of food safety, labor and environmental violations. Centrum Valley Farms took over management of DeCoster's operations in Iowa last year, vowing to improve them.
In an Aug. 14 warning letter, the FDA said it was concerned about the presence of salmonella heidelberg or SH in Centrum Valley Farm's poultry houses, warning it could enter chickens' organs and end up in their eggs.
"SH has caused several egg-associated outbreaks resulting in human illness and at times death. Given this body of evidence, FDA considers SH within a poultry house environment to be a public health threat," according to the letter from John Thorsky, director of FDA's Kansas City regional office. "We acknowledge that you have been working with FDA to address this situation."
Chief Operating Officer Steve Boomsma said in the statement that Centrum Valley was in the process of responding to FDA's findings, which also included several deficiencies in its testing for salmonella and its salmonella prevention plan.