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Egg recall grows to 380 million, hundreds may be sick


August 19, 2010

Hundreds of Americans have likely become ill from tainted eggs, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell said Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration, which investigates food contamination, said the CDC received reports of approximately 200 salmonella cases every week during late June and early July. Normally, the CDC has received an average of some 50 reports of salmonella illness each week for the past five years. Many states have also reported increases of this pattern since May 2010, the FDA said.

One Wisconsin woman infected by salmonella has filed a lawsuit against a restaurant that allegedly served contaminated eggs linked to the nationwide outbreak of the potentially-deadly bacteria.

Plaintiff Tanja Dzinovic, 27, from Pleasant Prarie, Wisconsin, said she got sick after eating at the Baker Street Restaurant and Pub in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in June. She recently retained the Seattle, Washington-based law firm Marler Clark, which specializes in food poisoning cases, and amended her lawsuit against the restaurant to include Wright County Egg, an Iowa-based company that the Egg Safety Center says has recalled 380 million eggs since last week.

Drew Falkenstein, the Marler Clark attorney co-representing Dzinovic, said Thursday although she returned to work a while ago, after a week of acute illness, she suffers from ongoing gastrointestinal problems.

In the legal complaint, Marler Clark says, "defendant Baker Street Restaurant and Pub purchased and used in the manufacture of its menu items Salmonella-contaminated shell eggs subject to defendant Wright County Egg's August 16, 2010 recall."

The Kenosha County Health Department closed the restaurant on July 13 to investigate an outbreak of "at least 30 confirmed Salmonella enteritidis illnesses... including the plaintiff's," according to the complaint.

Falkenstein said even though Wright County has recalled the eggs, Baker Street Restaurant will remain part of the lawsuit. He said when so many people in one restaurant became ill, it should have raised red flags and called the food-handling practices into question.

Marler Clark said in its press release that this is the first lawsuit related to this outbreak, but Falkenstein said the firm is representing three people in Wisconsin and about 15 nationally who have contracted salmonella in this wave.

L & K Tricoli, LLC, which owns the Baker Street Restaurant and Pub and two other Kenosha restaurants, did not respond to repeated CNN requests for comment.

Salmonella, which is generally contracted from contaminated poultry, meat, eggs, or water, impacts the intestinal tract.

Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours, according to the CDC. Vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains may also occur, according to the Mayo Clinic. These symptoms last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment in healthy people. Antidiarrheal medications may help with cramps, but they may also prolong the diarrhea, the Mayo Clinic said.

The elderly, infants, and people with impaired immune systems are at heightened risk for developing a more serious illness because of salmonella, the CDC said. Some people can develop life-threatening complications if the infection spreads beyond the intestines. In that case, a doctor may need to prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Other infected people may also require medical attention for dehydration due to persistent diarrhea. Warning signs for extreme dehydration include sunken eyes, dry mouth and tongue, decreased urine output, and reduced production of tears, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Chickens can pass the bacteria to eggs because the eggs leave hens through the same passageway as feces, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Alternatively, bacteria in the hen's ovary or oviduct can get to the egg before the shell forms around it, FSIS said.

The Egg Safety Center is run by United Egg Producers, which describes itself as a cooperative of egg farmers from all across the United States, representing the ownership of approximately 95 percent of all the nation's egg-laying hens.

On its website, United Egg Producers says that U.S. egg farmers produced almost 6.5 billion table eggs in April, the most recent month for which statistics are available. The average American eats about 250 eggs per year, the trade group says.

Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, which announced an earlier recall last week, added several more batches and brands to the recall Wednesday afternoon.

"Wright County Egg is fully cooperating with FDA's investigation by undertaking this voluntary recall," the company said in a statement. "Our primary concern is keeping salmonella out of the food supply and away from consumers. As a precautionary measure, Wright County Egg also has decided to divert its existing inventory of shell eggs from the recalled plants to a breaker, where they will be pasteurized to kill any salmonella bacteria present."

After the uptick in salmonella infections, the CDC and the FDA traced the source and determined it was most likely eggs from Wright County Egg. The company says it is working to determine how the shell eggs are being contaminated.

Krista Eberle, director of food safety programs at the Egg Safety Center, reiterated that only shell eggs are affected by the Wright County recall.

"From what we know they only do shell eggs, and if they did extra egg products, they are still considered to be safe," Eberle said. She added that egg products such as egg whites and dried eggs go through pasteurization and extensive heat treatment, so they're considered safe to eat and the Egg Safety Center is not concerned the other products might be sullied with bacteria.

The new recall covers eggs branded as Albertsons, Farm Fresh, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma, Lund, Kemps and Pacific Coast and are marked with a three-digit code ranging from 136 to 229 and plant numbers 1720 and 1942, the company said. In addition, NuCal Foods, which, on its website, calls itself the largest distributor of shell eggs in the western United States, announced Thursday it was "voluntarily recalling specific ... dates of shell eggs produced by Wright County Egg and packaged by NuCal Foods because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella."

The earlier recall covered the Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps brands that were marked with with a three-digit code ranging from 136 to 225 and plant numbers 1026, 1413 and 1946.

The four-digit plant number begins with "P - " and is followed by the three-digit code.

Both recalls affect eggs packed in several different sized cartons, from a half-dozen to 18 eggs. Only shell eggs are affected by the recall, the company said.

Consumers are encouraged to return the eggs in their original packaging to where they were purchased for a full refund.

Salmonella bacteria can be found inside and outside of eggs that appear to be normal.

Given the health risks posed by eggs, the FDA offers the following safety advice on its website:

-- Don't eat recalled eggs or products containing recalled eggs. Recalled eggs might still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and consumers' homes. Consumers who have recalled eggs should discard them or return them to their retailer for a refund. Individuals who think they might have become ill from eating recalled eggs should consult their health care providers.

-- Keep shell eggs refrigerated at temperatures no higher than 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) at all times.

-- Discard cracked or dirty eggs.

-- Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.

-- Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.

-- Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

-- Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.

-- Avoid eating raw eggs.

-- Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.

-- Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and person with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.

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