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Salmonella Outbreaks Spur Nationwide Egg Recall

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Posted By Dr. Mercola | August 30 2010

Eggs are the culprit behind a U.S. salmonella outbreak that caused hundreds of illnesses each week in June and July. A nationwide egg recall now involves more than a dozen major brands that got eggs from Wright County Egg.

The CDC and state investigators found clusters of salmonella food poisoning among people who ate eggs at the same restaurants.

Those restaurants got eggs that came from Wright County Egg. Investigations continue in Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

According to WebMD:

“The brand names included in the recall are Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, and Kemps. Recalled eggs are in six, dozen, and 18-egg cartons.”

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Over half a billion eggs from two Iowa farms have now been recalled, after authorities linked them to more than 1,000 cases of salmonella poisoning across the United States.

Ordinarily, eggs are one of the healthiest foods in the world, and in my opinion are at their very best if you eat them raw. Under ideal farming conditions, the risks of contamination should be slim to none, but the U.S. food system is not set up to support these ideals. Instead, most agribusiness “farms” produce eggs in such a way that makes contamination risks soar.

Unsanitary, Inhumane Egg Factory Farms are the Norm

It may sound incredible, but many conventional egg operations contain as many as half a million chickens. Each cage will hold four or five birds, each with an area no larger than a letter-sized sheet of paper on which to “roam.” The truth is, many of these chickens can barely move around at all, let alone stretch their wings, forage for food or even spend time in the light of day.

Subsequently, these cage-raised chickens have to be given routine doses of antibiotics and other drugs, all of which have serious health implications for you the consumer.

It is a common misconception that salmonella only contaminates eggs from an external source. This is certainly a factor, as eggshells are porous and whatever the eggshell comes into contact with can cross over this semi-permeable membrane and end up in your eggs, including salmonella.

This is especially true when the eggshells are washed, which is required by most state laws as washing removes one of the barriers that normally protects the eggs from being contaminated.

But eggs can also become contaminated while they are being formed if the salmonella bacteria exist inside a chicken’s ovaries. Hens can become infected by eating rodent droppings or contaminated feed, and then pass the salmonella on to their eggs.

Eggs from Large Farming Operations More Likely to be Contaminated

Chickens raised in unsanitary conditions are far more likely to be contaminated, and lay contaminated eggs. In fact, one study by the British government found that 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, compared to just over 4 percent in organic flocks and 6.5 percent in free-range flocks.

As you might suspect, contamination occurred most often at farms that contained the most birds, typically 30,000 or more. These large farming operations had flocks that contained over four times the average levels of salmonella compared to the smaller flock sizes allowed under British organic standards.

As for the latest recall, it seems it was only a matter of time before illnesses occurred, as the owner of the farms had a pattern of serious safety and health violations.

Recalled Eggs’ Supplier a “Habitual Violator”

The massive egg recalls came from the Iowa farms Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, both of which use Quality Egg for supplies of young chickens and feeds. Both Quality Egg and Wright County Egg are owned by Austin Jack DeCoster, a businessman who has been cited for health and safety violations so many times he’s known as a “habitual violator.”

As CBS News reported, DeCoster’s many violations include:

  • A $2-million fine to settle citations of harmful bacteria, unsanitary conditions, electrical hazards and unguarded machinery at a Maine farm.
  • Being named as a “habitual violator” for violating environmental regulations, including hog manure runoff into waterways, which prevented him from building new farms.
  • A $1.5-million settlement for an employment discrimination lawsuit that claimed women were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, by some supervisory workers at DeCoster’s plants.
  • Penalties for animal cruelty allegations.
  • Numerous immigration raids.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the latest salmonella outbreak, but given the company’s sordid history I think it’s safe to say most Americans would choose to buy their eggs elsewhere -- if they knew what was really going on behind the scenes.

But these eggs, which are sold under numerous brand names and shipped to various locations from institutions to restaurants, bear little evidence of their past once nestled into an innocent-looking egg carton and placed on your grocery store shelf. That is, until people start getting sick.

By then, of course, it is too late, which is why I so strongly urge you to avoid eggs that come from these types of massive factory farming operations, and instead get eggs from a local farmer you know and trust.

Egg Recall Signals a Much Deeper Problem …

The U.S. food system is in a very sad state, which is why most Americans are no strangers to food recalls. In 2006, we had spinach pulled from the shelves as though it were radioactive waste. Then, in 2008 the largest beef recall in U.S. history took place, followed by a slew of recalls involving lettuce, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes, to name just a few.

Eggs are only the latest examples of this food system gone wrong, and at the root of the problem is farming done on a mass-production scale with little regard for cleanliness and natural needs of the animals.

About 95 percent of the eggs produced in the U.S. come from gigantic egg factories housing millions of hens under one roof. You can only imagine how difficult -- if not impossible -- it is to keep millions of birds in one location and still produce a product that’s safe to eat.

Unfortunately, the industry’s answers to making your food safe are only contributing to the problems. Rather than focusing on the root of the problem -- which is the poor conditions in which most food is grown and raised -- regulators are trying to mask it with chemicals and other unhealthy “food safety” practices.

In 2008, the U.S. government decided to allow food producers to irradiate fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce in order to kill organisms like E. coli and salmonella, but at the expense of nutrients.

This way, agribusiness can continue to grow and process spinach and lettuce in the filthiest conditions imaginable, and it will still be perfectly safe for you to eat it, thanks to the varying doses of radiation.

There is speculation that this latest salmonella outbreak will provide a springboard for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin a campaign to irradiate or pasteurize all eggs -- a move that would destroy many of the valuable nutrients that make eggs such a healthy food to begin with, while letting irresponsible and in some cases criminal food producers completely off the hook for growing and distributing contaminated food.

Already, the FDA is recommending that retailers, consumers and food service outlets use pasteurized eggs to avoid contracting salmonella, when in reality all that is needed to prevent this contaminant is to raise chickens in sanitary, humane conditions.

On the flipside, there are also salmonella vaccines in the works, both for farm animals and for humans. Vaccines, especially those for people, are often better received just after the height of an “outbreak” like this one, as occurred last year with H1N1. It’s an interesting coincidence, if nothing more …

So far the FDA has decided not to mandate vaccination of hens against salmonella, but that may all change in the wake of the egg recall.

Where Should You Get Your Eggs?

Eggs are one of the first foods many people think of when it comes to salmonella, but it’s common in other foods as well, includingconventionally raised chickens and fast foods from sports stadiums.

As with many types of food-borne illness, you can help to lower your risk by seeking out only high-quality food. For eggs, salmonella infections are usually present only in conventionally raised commercial hens.

If you purchase your eggs from a source with healthy chickens, the infection risk reduces dramatically. Remember, only sick chickens lay salmonella-contaminated eggs, so as always it is important to know where your food comes from. And if you don't ask, they won't tell you.

The key here is to buy your eggs locally. About the only time I purchase eggs from the store is when I am traveling or for some reason I miss my local egg pickup.

Fortunately, finding high-quality organic eggs is relatively easy, as virtually every rural area has small farmers with chickens. If you live in an urban area, visiting the local health food stores is typically the quickest route to finding high-quality local egg sources.

One hundred years ago many people raised their own chickens and in fact in many communities chickens and eggs were actually a form of currency. Fortunately, today many individuals continue to raise their own chickens.

Without question the single best source you can find is a local farmer who is raising their chickens humanely and not in a factory farm. The chickens should be allowed outside and eat insects. If you find these eggs the yolks will be bright orange due to the increased nutrients.

Next best would be organic grown but NOT omega-3 eggs as it will likely have rancid omega-3 in them. The chicken should also be free range. But please remember that eggs from local farmers are nearly always superior and fresher.

Farmers markets are another great way to meet the people who produce your food. With face-to-face contact, you can get your questions answered and know exactly what you're buying. Better yet, visit the farm -- ask for a tour. If they have nothing to hide, they should be eager to show you their operation.

Your egg farmer should be paying attention to proper nutrition, clean water, adequate housing space, and good ventilation to reduce stress on the hens and support their immunity.

The CDC and other public health organizations will advise you to thoroughly cook your eggs to lower the risk of salmonella, but eating eggs raw is actually the best in terms of your health. You are better off seeking eggs from only high-quality sources, which are the ones that will be safe from the get-go, and then consuming them raw, which is their most nutritional state.

For more tips on eggs, including how to identify fresh, high-quality eggs, please read Raw Eggs for Your Health.

What to do if You Get Salmonella …

Salmonella is a serious infection, but if you are healthy your immune system should be able to fight it off relatively easily. A strong immune system is your best defense against any pathogenic bacteria you come across, and will serve you well if you nourish it with the proper tools.

That said, even the healthiest of us can become a victim of food poisoning, especially if your immune system is depressed due to illness or stress.

If your case of salmonella infection is severe, you should seek medical treatment, as severe food poisoning can be fatal. If your stools turn black or have a tar-like consistency, it's a sign you're severely dehydrated and may need IV fluids. In cases of severe illness, you may also need to be treated with antibiotics. However, some salmonella bacteria have become resistant to many commonly used antibiotics.

Fortunately, most cases can be treated at home, using a few time-tested all natural strategies.

First and foremost, you need to make sure you're staying properly hydrated, so drink plenty of clear liquids, such as pure water and broth. You may also need to take some form of oral electrolyte, found in most pharmacies.

Then, most importantly, make sure you take a high-quality probiotic. Probiotics have been found effective against acute diarrhea, but large therapeutic doses are required (typically an entire bottle over a day's time or about an eighth of a bottle every hour until the problem is resolved).

Keep in mind there are many inferior probiotics on the market. I suggest asking a trusted expert in your local health food store for their recommendation. If you don't have such a resource and want to take advantage of my experience, I sell a couple of probiotic supplements that I spent over five years researching and formulating to ensure superior quality.

Typically, with rest, plenty of fluids and high-quality probiotics, you should be back on your feet in no time

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