MONDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- There may be more recalls of eggs potentially tainted by salmonella, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
"We may see some additional sort of sub-recalls over the next couple of days, maybe even weeks, as we better understand the network of distribution of these eggs that are contaminated," agency director Margaret Hamburg told NBC's Today show.
She also believes that new laws are needed to expand the agency's enforcement from a mostly reactive stance on food safety to a more "preventive approach."
Appearing on the network morning news programs, Hamburg said the FDA is taking the salmonella outbreak "very, very seriously." But, she added, Congress should pass pending legislation that would give her agency greater enforcement power, including new authority over imported food, the Associated Press reported.
"We need better abilities and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable," Hamburg said.
She also offered some practical advice for consumers, urging them to avoid runny, over-easy "egg yolks for mopping up with toast."
On Saturday, it was reported that the two Iowa farms linked to the disease outbreak -- Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms -- share suppliers of chickens and chicken feed. Jewanna Porter, a spokeswoman for the egg industry, said the company Quality Egg supplies young chickens and feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. The two share other suppliers, she said, but she did not name them, the AP reported.
The egg industry has consolidated in recent years, meaning there are fewer, bigger businesses controlling much of the nation's egg supply. Further complicating matters, the salmonella outbreak has focused attention on a potential difficulty with federal inspection of egg farms. The FDA oversees inspections of shell eggs, while the Agriculture Department is charged with inspecting other egg products, the news service said.
On Friday, Hillandale Farms of New Hampton, Iowa, said it was voluntarily recalling 170 million shell eggs produced since April that were sent to 14 states in the Midwest and West because there have been laboratory-confirmed cases of Salmonella enteritidis associated with some of the eggs.
Hillandale said the eggs covered by its recall were distributed to grocery distribution centers, retail grocery stores and food-service companies that service or are located in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The eggs were distributed under the following brand names: Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, and Sunny Meadow in 6-egg cartons, dozen-egg cartons, 18-egg cartons, 30-egg packages, and 5-dozen cases. Loose eggs were packaged under the following brand names: Wholesome Farms and West Creek in 15 and 30-dozen tray packs, Hillandale said in a news release.
On Wednesday, Wright County Egg, the other Iowa company at the center of the massive recall of eggs linked to salmonella contamination, dramatically broadened its nationwide recall to 380 million eggs.
Wright County Egg products were distributed to wholesalers and food-service companies nationwide under multiple brand names: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps.
The salmonella outbreak, which federal officials said was the largest of its type related to eggs in years, had sickened more than 250 people in at least four states as of late last week. Some estimates place the number of human infections at 1,000 or more. There have been no reported deaths.
The outbreak, which apparently began in May, appeared to be ongoing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The outbreak began several weeks before the July introduction of new federal safety rules intended to reduce the risk of salmonella in eggs, The New York Times reported.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, federal health officials said they had received nearly 2,000 reports of salmonella poisoning from May to July. But the officials couldn't say how many of these cases were related to the Wright County Egg recall.
However, more cases of salmonella poisoning due to infected eggs could be expected, said Dr. Christopher R. Braden, acting director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases.
"I would anticipate that we will be seeing more illnesses reported as a result of this outbreak," he said, citing the lag in time when a person can get sick and then reports of an illness are forwarded to the CDC.
In healthy people, salmonella, a food-borne bacteria, can cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea and usually lasts four to seven days. However, contamination can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.
The FDA advises consumers to:
- Toss recalled eggs or return them to the store for a refund.
- See a doctor if you think you are ill after eating recalled eggs.
- Keep eggs refrigerated at all times.
- Throw out cracked or dirty eggs.
- Wash hands, utensils and preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
- Cook eggs until both the white and the yolk are firm and eat promptly after cooking.
The FDA also warned consumers not to keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than two hours, and not to eat raw eggs or restaurant dishes made with raw, undercooked or unpasteurized eggs.
Eating undercooked eggs should also be avoided, especially by young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness, the agency added.
Harmful bacteria such as salmonella are the most common cause of foodborne illnesses, according to federal health officials.
For the latest information on the salmonella outbreak, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.