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FDA detected Salmonella Enteritidis in the environment of more than one poultry house at Sparboe Farms’ Litchfield, MN egg producing operation during the agency’s inspection of the farm.

After being informed of the Salmonella-positive results, the company initiated testing of eggs from those poultry houses. None of the eggs were positive for Salmonella.

Sparboe Farms – according to the company’s website – is the fifth largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the USA, serving retail, wholesale and foodservice customers in 26 states.

The company maintains seven egg production and grading facilities in three states – Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado.

Late last week (November 17th and 18th), FDA posted the results of its inspections of the seven facilities. The inspections, which were carried out between April and July, 2011 revealed a number of deficiencies at one or more of the locations, including:

  1. Inaccuracies and inadequacies in the company’s written Salmonella Enteritidis Prevention Plan,
  2. Failure to conduct required environmental testing for Salmonella Enteritidis,
  3. Failure to use approved methods for conducting environmental sampling and Salmonella testing,
  4. Inadequate procedures for preventing cross-contamination between poultry houses,
  5. Failure to prevent stray animals – including stray poultry from entering the poultry houses; and
  6. Deficiencies in rodent control and/or insect control.

FDA issued a comprehensive Warning Letter to Sparboe Farms Owner Beth Sparboe Schnell on November 16th, detailing all of the “serious violations” observed during inspection of the various egg facilities. It was in the Warning Letter that FDA revealed the Salmonella-positive findings.

Last Friday evening (November 18th), ABC’s 20/20 aired a report on Sparboe, including an undercover video from Mercy for Animals, alleging animal cruelty and insanitary conditions in the company’s poultry houses.

Shortly after the ABC report aired, two major Sparboe customers – McDonald’s and Target – announced that they would no longer purchase eggs from Sparboe, and Target removed Sparboe eggs from its stores.

Although Sparboe Farms was relatively unaffected by last year’s massive Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak and egg recall, eFoodAlert received a number of reports from consumers who believed that they had become ill after consuming Target’s Market Pantry eggssupplied to Target by Sparboe Farms. Consumers identified eggs from several Sparboe facilities, including the Litchfield, Minnesota location. At the time, there was never enough evidence to convince FDA or CDC to identify Sparboe-produced eggs as part of the problem.

Sparboe has acknowledged finding Salmonella in environmental samples, stating:

Salmonella is found everywhere from chicken barns and hog farms to your own kitchen counter and even on vegetables we buy from the store so naturally we expect to test positive for Salmonella on occasion in the environment. As part of the Egg Safety Rule, and Sparboe’s Salmonella Prevention Program, swabs are taken in the barn environment and tested for Salmonella. Since July 2010, when the rule went into effect, Sparboe has taken more than 3000 swabs and have found some environmental positives.

 The rule states that when we find an environmental positive, we are to do additional testing inside the eggs. During testing, eggs from positive barns are not sold unless pasteurized. To date, Sparboe has never found Salmonella inside a hen or an egg.

The company adds that it was doing Salmonella testing long before the Egg Safety Rule was enacted in July of last year, and that it remains in compliance with the rule. “The warning letter,” Sparboe explains, “contained 34 corrective actions. Many cannot be resolved until FDA audits our farm again. The remaining open objections include 5 paperwork items, 7 relating to how we count and record mice, and 7 relating to our testing protocol, which was changed immediately upon notification.”

Strange definition of compliance!