Tests find no salmonella at Maine egg farms

Posted Dec. 15, 2010, at 10:27 p.m.

A federal inspection has determined that Maine’s big commercial egg farms are free of Salmonella enteriditis, the disease-causing bacterium that caused a massive nationwide recall of eggs produced at two farms in Iowa last summer. The findings, which support the results of Maine’s own testing program, were announced Wednesday by the state Department of Agriculture.

Under provisions of the new Egg Safety Rule adopted in July by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, federal inspectors recently completed a month-long inspection of Maine’s major commercial egg farms. Routine testing of chicken feces found that no positive test results for Salmonella enteriditis were identified, according to Wednesday’s announcement.

“Our poultry houses have all been free of SE for more than a year, and we are very pleased to report that environmental tests performed by the FDA inspectors were also negative for the bacteria in all the buildings they tested,” State Veterinarian Don Hoenig said Wednesday. “This is extremely good news for Maine consumers and for egg farmers in Maine, because it means our program is working and that Maine eggs are among the safest in the country.”

One of the Iowa farms implicated in last summer’s recall, Wright County Eggs, is owned by Austin “Jack” Decoster, whose family also owns Maine Contract Farming in Turner and has contract agreements with Dorothy Egg Farms in Winthrop and Mountain Hollow Egg Farm in Leeds.

The three Maine sites comprise 82 egg barns and raise about 4.5 million laying hens each year. They are the only commercial operations in Maine large enough to fall under the new federal salmonella rule. The egg business is Maine’s third-largest agricultural industry, behind potatoes and dairy, and is worth about $63 million.

Hoenig oversees the state’s own Salmonella enteriditis program, which was established in 1988 and is one of the country’s first and most demanding salmonella reduction programs. In the more than 20-year history of the Maine program, there have not been any human salmonella illnesses traced to Maine eggs, which are shipped throughout the eastern United States.

Maine’s program contains provisions which are more stringent than the FDA Egg Safety Rule, including that all egg-laying hens be double-vaccinated against salmonella; that birds are blood-tested six to eight weeks after vaccination to assure the vaccine was correctly administered; and that buildings are inspected monthly to assess rodent control. Hoenig said the success of the program demonstrates the importance of the collaborative effort among the state, the testing labs at the University of Maine in Orono and egg farmers.

The FDA estimates that as many as 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths due to consumption of eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteriditis may be avoided each year through implementation of the new federal rule. The salmonella bacterium in eggs is killed by thorough cooking.

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