Largest US egg producing state operating with no safety inspections

© Fabrizio Bensch
Iowa, the leading state for laying hen production, has been without egg facility inspections for almost a year. The state delivers about 15 billion eggs nationwide annually.

Inspections were suspended this past May to safeguard against a recurrence of bird flu, an investigation by the Des Moines Register reveals.

The FDA halted inspections over fears that inspectors might spread the virus from one flock to another during egg facility visits, despite there being no documented instances of this ever happening.

The state agriculture department, which handles inspections for smaller facilities, followed suit, meaning that no one was designated to check salmonella protocols, look for rodents and other pests, or make sure eggs from facilities had been properly disinfected.

Final reports filed before the inspections were cut found instances of improper refrigeration, insufficient salmonella testing, and animals in laying facilities, including rodents and salmonella-carrying frogs.

The revelation is particularly alarming in the wake of a 2010 salmonella outbreak linked to Iowa farms that caused thousands of people to become ill and resulted in 550 million eggs being recalled.

Iowa’s egg industry generates about $2 billion in total sales per year and employs about 8,000 people, according to the Iowa Egg Council

Eggs contaminated with salmonella sicken an average of 79,000 people annually, resulting in some 30 deaths, according to the FDA.

Government officials and egg industry supporters claim the suspension of inspections has not compromised food safety, pointing out that farmers are still expected to follow safety regulations.

The FDA has declined to speculate on when it might lift its own suspension. Agency spokeswoman Lauren Sucher told the Des Moines Register that its investigators can override the ban on inspections and take regulatory action if warranted.