New egg safety plans unveiled by industry and government

Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports exclusively this morning that egg producers and government regulators are separately taking steps to improve egg safety in the wake of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that was tied to farms in Iowa.

Producers "want nothing else to happen like what happened in Iowa," said Howard Magwire, vice president of government relations for the United Egg Producers. The trade group is developing safety standards for the industry that would go beyond federal regulations.

Good. Because government sets minimal standards that repeatedly cannot even catch the food safety outliers. Consumers, the ones who buy eggs, and producers, the ones who sell eggs and all suffer during an outbreak, deserve better, and the best way to do that is take charge and stop waiting for Godot or government.

The United Egg Producers is developing industry standards that will mirror the agency’s production rules and go a step further by requiring participating producers to vaccinate all hens against salmonella. Because of contamination that the food agency found in feed at one of the Iowa operations, the producers’ group also is considering writing sanitation standards for feed mills, Magwire said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to inspect every major farm in the nation, starting with operations that have had past trouble with government officials, and it is working on coordinating oversight with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sixteen inspections had been carried out by midmonth. The agency expects to conduct about 600 inspections in the next 14 months.

Meanwhile, the USDA and FDA have given themselves until Nov. 30 to come up with a plan for training employees to spot food-safety problems, according to a Sept. 15 letter. "It is imperative that field employees are properly educated as to these responsibilities," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in the letter. Vilsack told The Des Moines Register that the food agency will train USDA egg inspectors to spot problems on egg farms.

About time.