INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Workers at a chicken farm were found not to be washing their hands before handling eggs, after touching dirty equipment and using the bathroom; other problems cited include rodent infestation.
These are among the unsanitary conditions federal inspectors say they want corrected by an Indiana-based egg producer, tied to a possible outbreak of salmonella.
According to a U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, unsafe conditions allowing “for the harborage, proliferation and spread of filth and pathogens” were found throughout a chicken farm operated by Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms. The operation in Pantego, N.C., was inspected prior to the April 13 voluntary recall of more than 200 million eggs the company felt were at risk of contamination by salmonella bacteria.
The eggs were distributed to consumers in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Colorado, New York and New Jersey. According to FDA, at least 23 illnesses have been reported.
Inspectors visited the operation from March 26-April 11. Findings included dozens of live and dead rodents, including baby mice, in chicken houses and manure pits and condensation dripping from ceilings, cracks and walls onto crack detectors, egg graders and other production equipment.
Grimy floors, pallets and equipment, along with water pooling on floors and forklift pathways, were also cited in the report. According to inspectors, workers also wiped detergent off the eggs before the required soaking time and failed to wash their hands before handling eggs after touching dirty equipment and trash cans.
Inspectors also revealed eggs handled by hands unwashed following restroom use, according to the report. In some instances, workers did not even change the gloves on their hands after contact with dirty surfaces.
According to inspectors, the rodent infestation was ongoing since at least September 2017 despite corrective measures to lower it to an acceptable level.
Dried egg and shells were also spotted on conveyor belts, chains, rail guards and other machine parts even after the equipment had been sanitized, the report showed. Other findings included a steel wool scrubber stored in a pool of water and egg mix that contained floating food debris and grime.
Such unsafe practices were throughout the farm, inspectors said. According to FDA officials, 2.3 million eggs roll out of the facility daily.
In a prepared a statement, Rose Acre Farms cautioned not to jump to conclusions from a report based on “raw observations.” The report, in some cases, also “lack(s) proper context,” said company officials.
“It’s unfair to be judged on the farm’s operation without proper perspective or a chance to formally respond to an incomplete representation of a massive facility that houses more than 3 million hens,” they added.
According to FDA, Rose Acre Farms must correct the issues before the next inspection or face repercussions that could range from product seizures to a shutdown of the operation. Rose Acre Farms, one of the largest egg producers in the United States, has 17 facilities in eight states.